As the Natural Lands Project (NLP) works to create habitat for Northern Bobwhite and improve Chesapeake Bay water quality, participating landowners will soon be able to try out a new initiative - raising Monarch Butterflies
Through the NLP and the Center for Environment & Society at Washington College, landowners, school teachers and citizens alike will have access to a comprehensive step-by-step guide to rearing Monarch Butterflies to augment local and regional populations of this charismatic pollinator species.
Throughout North America, migratory populations of Monarch Butterflies have been declining precipitously. Researchers think the major cause is the loss of overwintering habitat in California and especially northern Mexico, where logging, conversion of forests into farmland and climate change have reduced the availability of the high quality Oyamel Fir stands that provide a critical microclimate sheltering and protecting Monarchs from precipitation.
Another cause of the Monarch’s decline is the loss of breeding habitat. Monarchs require milkweed- it’s the only plant that Monarchs lay eggs on and that the growing caterpillars eat. Adult Monarchs use the milkweed flowers for nectar along with other native nectar producing wildflowers. Unfortunately, due to milkweed’s propensity to grow in weedy areas along state highways, county roads, edges of farmland, and residential backyards it is frequently mowed down along with non-native plants. These issues have translated into a national Monarch population decrease of 74-80%.
In addition to improving habitat for quail and local water quality, the NLP is aiming to increase Monarch Butterfly populations and milkweed patches locally on the eastern shore of Maryland in two ways. The first is incorporating native milkweed seed into the grassland seed mix that is planted on NLP enrolled properties. The second is by rearing monarchs in protected environments.
In the wild, fewer than five per cent of Monarch eggs survive to adulthood, mainly due to predation. Following the leadership of the Monarch Research Project (monarchzones.com) and their Monarch Zone concept, we initiated our own Monarch rearing project in the Chester River Field Research Station’s restored grasslands. During the first week of July 2016, a healthy stand of milkweed plants was enclosed within a 6 by 6 foot pop-up greenhouse, and female Monarch Butterflies were caught and placed within the tent for a day so to lay their eggs on the milkweed. When the adults were released, the plants were checked for eggs, and approximately two dozen were counted! At least half of those eggs hatched into caterpillars, which are currently eating as much milkweed as they desire until they are ready to form their chrysalis and metamorphose into adult butterflies. So far, the project has been very successful with minimal maintenance and has a high potential to be easily replicated on NLP landowner properties.
Stay tuned for Monarch project updates and the guide’s availability!