Source: Sherman Publications

Remove Images

Make way for Monarchs

by Mary Keck

November 07, 2012

Trish Hennig and John Meyland point to a waystation posting. Photo by Mary Keck
Photo by John Meyland
Picnickers and playful youngsters aren't the only visitors to Depot Park these days. It is also a favored location for nectar-loving butterflies. In particular, it's a preferred spot for the Monarch butterfly, especially now that the park and Rain Garden will be maintained as a "Monarch Depot."

According to North Oakland Wild Ones Vice President Trish Hennig, the park is a perfect location for Monarchs because of the variety of Milkweed plants available. Lately, Monarchs are "having trouble finding Milkweed where they lay their eggs," Hennig said.

Once a Monarch butterfly lays its eggs on Milkweed, the hatching caterpillars eat the plant's leaves. When they munch on Milkweed, baby caterpillars protect themselves from predators because birds don't like the plant's flavor. Varieties like Common or Swamp Milkweed are the only plants a Monarch's caterpillars will eat. Without the plant, Monarchs won't survive, Hennig explained.

"Numbers are dwindling," Hennig says of the popular orange and black butterfly, and it's due to reductions in their favorite plant. While Monarch's can nectar on a variety of blossoms like Coneflowers, Asters, and Black Eyed Susans, they haven't adapted to laying eggs on any plant except Milkweed.

Luckily for Monarchs, Depot Park has several varieties of Milkweed, which is what qualifies it to be a Monarch Waystation. Once the butterflies visit, trackers like Wild Ones John Meyland can tag the Monarchs and find out how far they migrate.

"Southern Ontario is where a lot of them are born," said Meyland who catches the butterflies in a net. "You have to be quick," he said. Then, "you open the net, talk nice to them, determine if it is male or female, and be careful because when you reach in, they could fly out," Meyland explained.

He carefully places a numbered sticker on the butterfly's wing, and anywhere the Monarch is found during its migration down to Mexico, he'll be able to track it online. The data is compiled, and it helps an organization called Monarch Watch determine the butterfly's migration patterns.

Right around September, the Monarchs fluttered off to Texas, stopping along the way to nectar on flowers, said Meyland. By December, the Monarchs will be in Mexico where "they will be draped all over the fir trees in the mountains," he described. "About February, they'll start coming back."

Meyland said the best time to see Monarchs in Depot Park is around June and July. Not only will you find the famous orange and black butterflies flying from bloom to bloom, but you'll also see their eggs and caterpillars. "Be patient, take time, and look," said Meyland. The eggs are very small and can usually be spotted on the underside of a Milkweed plant, and the caterpillars have yellow, black, and white stripes.

To maintain their new Monarch Waystation, the Wild Ones will avoid using pesticides and make sure there's plenty of Milkweed and other nectar-producing plants in Depot Park.

They encourage residents to help increase Monarch populations by creating their own waystations in their yards and gardens. "We can all do a little bit. Plant them in yards, churches, and schools," by growing varieties of Milkweed and other plants attractive to pollinators, said Hennig.

"It seems magical," said Henning of the way Monarchs locate Milkweed for egg laying. "It makes me sad to think Monarchs won't be in our future." To find out more go to