Monarchs' amazing migration heading over Arizona
Monarch butterflies are perhaps the most amazing insect in the world because they migrate twice a year as far as 3,000 miles.
Unlike migrating birds, the monarchs that migrate south as far as Mexico for the winter are not the same ones that return north as far as Canada in the spring.
Because of their short lifespan, it can take as many as four generations of monarchs to complete one migration. Scientists still are trying to figure out how subsequent generations return to the same places.
Although fewer travel through Arizona compared to states to the east, Prescottonians have their best chance to see their fall migration over the next few weeks. The sunflowers along the Verde River riparian corridor in the Verde Valley are among the biggest monarch draws in Arizona.
The Southwest Monarch Study seeks to learn more about where the monarchs come from before flying over Arizona, and where they're going. Study volunteers carefully place special tags on the monarchs, and some have been found later along the California coast and in central Mexico. A few even winter in the Salt River Valley.
Their largest over-wintering site is the oyamel fir forest of the central mountains of Michoacan, Mexico, where residents honor the return of millions of monarchs during the Day of the Dead celebration because they believe their ancestors' spirits return as the monarchs.
To improve the odds of spotting a monarch and learn more about these amazing creatures, stop by the Hassayampa River Preserve the next two Saturdays.
This Saturday from 8:30-10 a.m., Gail Morris, a conservation specialist for Monarch Watch, will gear the program to children. They will learn about the monarch lifecycle and help look for monarchs to tag.
Then from 8-10 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 9, Morris' program will be for adults. They will learn about the monarch migration and how to help create way stations before heading out to the field to search for the butterflies.
The preserve is located along Highway 60 just east of Wickenburg. Go online to nature.org/Hassayampa for directions and more information.
Traveling such a long distance from August through October, monarchs need many way stations where they can find nectar flowers and their favorite plant, milkweed. They lay their eggs on milkweed and then their larvae eat it.
At the Hassayampa Preserve, Morris will show people how to create monarch way stations in their own yards and she will give away free milkweed seeds.
Monarchs need all the help they can get because of their dwindling habitat.
Unusual winter storms that some scientists are linking to climate change have wiped out half of the Michoacan monarchs in three recent winters. Illegal logging also has been a problem there.
In the Midwest of the United States along the monarchs' major migration route, a new study estimates that advances in Roundup-resistant corn and soybean crops have wiped out milkweeds on 100 million acres. The Roundup kills the milkweed and other plants that insects depend upon, but no longer kills the genetically modified crops, so farmers are using more Roundup.
Along with increasing use of herbicides, overall development has reduced monarch way stations all over the country, including Arizona.
"If these trends continue, monarchs are certain to decline, threatening the very existence of their magnificent migration," said Chip Taylor, Monarch Watch director, on the group's website.