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Plight of the Monarchs 

Monarch adult feeding on Showy Milkweed. Photo by Sue Anderson.

Monarch adult feeding on Showy Milkweed. Photo by Sue Anderson.

Monarch butterflies, once found throughout North America in the billions, are in the news because the species is faltering, and according to several insect specialists, is threatened with extinction.

Adult monarchs do not hibernate; they MUST migrate to southern climes where they winter over in enormous numbers. Therefore, thousands of monarchs found in the eastern and central US make annual flights south of 1,500 miles and more to Mexico.

The trip back to their summer range is not as rapid. The surviving adults begin their trek north, and when they come to milkweed, stop, mate, lay eggs and die. Their job is done, they have kept the species alive; it's now up to the next generation to hatch, munch on milkweed to the chrysalis stage, metamorphose into adults, emerge from that exquisite opaque container, dry out their wings and head north. This process will sometimes take up to five generations before the adults arrive back in their summer range.

Question: How do they know where they're going?

The western population of monarchs—found west of the Rocky Mountains—migrates to sites in California, but has been found overwintering in Nevada (near Las Vegas) and Mexico as well.

Monarch butterfly caterpillars do not eat anything but milkweed. Over the years, agricultural interests have been slowly eradicating milkweed throughout North America, and have been using various chemicals for food production that have harmful effects on developing caterpillars as well as adult butterflies. The results have been disastrous; in Iowa, native milkweed has been put on the state's Threatened Species list.

In order to help rebuild monarch numbers in Oregon, several groups of monarch restoration experts have joined together and formed the Monarch Advocates of Central Oregon (MACO).

MACO is inviting you to come learn about the monarch's incredible migrations and learn how you can support them through habitat restoration, citizen science projects, and more.

The first free monarch event will take place May 10 at the Sunriver Nature Center in the Pozzi building at 6:30 p.m. Tom Landis of the Southern Oregon Monarch Association will present a talk on the science behind the various monarch recovery projects and how residents of Central Oregon can create monarch waystations. Reservations can be made by calling: 541-593-4394.

On May 12, another free monarch event will take place at 6:30 p.m. in the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Central Oregon meeting hall located at 61980 Skyline Ranch Road in Bend. Doors will open at 6pm. Speakers will include Katya Spiecker, Founder of MACO; Matt Horning, USFS Geneticist; David James, Associate Professor of Entomology, and Tom Landis.

Spiecker will highlight local conservation work; Horning will cover the regional monarch monitoring project; James will discuss the Western Monarch Tagging Program; and Landis will explain how to create a monarch waystation and his restoration work in Southwest Oregon.

Organizers of the monarch event, MACO, and Great Old Broads for Wilderness, have asked those who are planning on attending the May 12 event to make reservations by visiting the MACO Facebook page. Seating is limited.

The monarch butterfly, Danaus plexippus, also known as the milkweed butterfly, common tiger, or wanderer, is often mistaken for our western tiger, viceroy and fritillary butterflies. Without question, it is the most familiar North American butterfly, and is considered an iconic pollinator species.

The eastern North American monarch population is notable for its annual southward late-summer/autumn migratory flight from Canada and the United States to Mexico. During the fall migration, monarchs cover thousands of miles, with a corresponding multi-generational return north.

Monarchs are considered so special in the scientific community that NASA transported several adult butterflies to the International Space Station and bred them there, but did not let them out to migrate to their wintering grounds.

The predicted fate of the monarch is alarming after the findings of a recent study predicted an 11 percent to 57 percent probability that the population will go extinct over the next 20 years.

With financial support from the nonprofit organization Awesome Bend last year, nine gardens containing 50 milkweed plantings were created locally. These monarch waystations are crucial to the butterfly's survival and more such safe havens are needed. Everyone from individuals to families to neighborhoods to whole communities can participate in this national effort to preserve this iconic king of the winged insect world.

A few words of caution: There are ONLY two native milkweeds that will work for this area: the Showy Milkweed, Asclepias speciosa is one, and for drier habitats, the Narrow-leaf Milkweed, Asclepias fascicularis, is the other. Be mindful of the type of milkweed planted. There are some plant suppliers that are offering foreign species, some of which will actually harm monarchs.

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