In the heat of late summer, the air is buzzing. An orange flutter catches your eye outside your window. Look closer and you see a monarch butterfly land on a bright yellow flower, seeking nectar! She is tasting the flower with her feet to be sure of its ripeness before unfurling her straw-like proboscis for a drink. She needs fuel to keep her energy up as she prepares to lay eggs on nearby milkweed and gather fuel for the fall migration.
You’ve seen a monarch butterfly before! Perhaps the bold orange has stood out against green plants in your community park, or highlighted in pictures and decorating murals, or even while walking between the exuberant flowerbeds at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden? The iconic orange butterfly with black stripes and white spots feels familiar.
Rarer than you might think
Yet, research shows that when people see more wildlife more often, the species that feel common are expected to be safe and abundant (Courchamp et al. 2018). Sadly, our relationship with monarch butterflies does not protect them, and last week the species was officially listed as Endangered by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. This new listing brings more media attention and a louder call to action for us to help. The Zoo is committed to monarch conservation while partnering with Monarch Joint Venture and the Xerces Society while we help lead the AZA SAFE North American Monarch Program.
The migratory monarch butterfly ventures from Canada to Mexico every year. Gardens of diverse flowers in Cincinnati and communities all over the US provide the fuel for this exceptional phenomenon. The Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden’s Plant for Pollinator Program has almost 3,000 gardens registered in 35 states! We make it easy to purchase native plants and create a welcoming buffet for butterflies and other wildlife.
While habitat destruction and climate change threaten our impressive butterfly, any number of flowers you plant outside can provide food while they visit! And if you choose more native and diverse plants, the better for providing the resources they need during their journey. But the size of a garden doesn’t matter; even a few plants in a pot on your windowsill or doorstep is enough to provide a rest stop during their migration (Braatz et al. 2021).
International Monarch Monitoring Blitz
Today, July 29th, is the start of the International Monarch Monitoring Blitz. This event goes for 10 days until August 7th. If you see any monarch eggs on milkweed, caterpillars, chrysalises, or adult butterflies, please help us support conservation by counting the current population with these easy and fun community science opportunities. It’s easy to report your sightings with our partners at Journey North! And let us know you participated by posting a photo of your monarch search efforts and tagging the Cincinnati Zoo on social media and using #cincyzoopic.
Monarch Monitoring Blitz data are uploaded and shared with researchers via the Trinational Monarch Knowledge Network, a central repository that, in combining data from various sources, assists researchers in performing large-scale temporal and spatial analyses. The data collected by volunteers help researchers answer key questions about monarch butterfly and milkweed distribution, timing of reproduction, and the use of natural resources. In turn, this information helps conservationists identify and prioritize actions to conserve the species.
Are you ready to join us to create a habitat and a buffet for monarchs?
- The Zoo’s Plant for Pollinators Program is a great place to start! You can get the best native and pollinator-friendly plants from our Horticulture team at our own Zoo’s Native Plant Sale on August 13th! You can check out our restoration efforts at the Bowyer Farm while you get plants for your garden. Native plant sales continue through October 2022, a great time to put plants in the ground so they can take root all winter before exploding in the spring.
- Then, register your garden after planting your flowers and join us in fueling the migration. We need your help to increase our network of gardens in the Plant for Pollinators program!
- And stay tuned for more events and community science opportunities during our monarch festival during the fall migration, including in-person activities at the Zoo on October 1st.