Managing a Space for All Species: Monarchs in Great Parks

Nature Academy

Over the past few years, the Great Parks Stewardship department has been aware of declining monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) sightings. The department has since taken steps to help promote and protect their habitat.

In the fall, monarch butterflies from our region start their migration to Mexico for the winter. When winter is over, they will begin their journey north, arriving once again to our area in the spring. After the spring and summer mating seasons, the females lay their eggs on milkweed leaves. Milkweeds are the monarch’s host plant, which means the adults specifically choose milkweeds to lay their eggs.

There are many species of milkweed, and Stewardship staff have made valiant efforts to promote some of our more common ones such as common milkweed (Asclepias syraica), swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) and butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa). Once the eggs hatch, the larvae then eat the milkweed for food, and in turn, toxins from the plant called cardenolides make the monarch caterpillars (and adult butterflies) taste bad to predators that may try to eat them.

Monarch caterpillar_GG_2014.06.26

Many natural areas throughout the Great Parks, such as the prairies and meadows maintained by Stewardship, have become a sanctuary for the monarch butterfly this year. These areas not only provide food for the larvae that only eat milkweed, but also provide a great source of nectar for the adult monarch butterflies. In the early summer, several monarch caterpillars were observed on milkweed in the prairies around Glenwood Gardens. Later this summer, there was an abundance of adult monarchs in the field to the west of the Little Miami Golf Center. Monarch butterflies have also been spotted in the prairies at Otto Armleder Park, Kroger Hills and Mitchell Memorial Forest, as well as many other natural areas where the various milkweeds grow.

Monarch butterfly_Milkweed_LMGC_2014.07.31

So while there always seems to be bad news about population declines in certain species and new invasive species, there is comfort in knowing that there is something we all can do to make things better. By being aware of these types of issues and putting forth the effort to help maintain habitat, we can create a space for all species.

Doug Stevenson, Stewardship Technician