Have you noticed the hint of autumn in the air? It is probably safe to say most folks across Alabama breathe a sigh of relief when the weather patterns begin their seasonal shift from summer to fall. These changes signal more than just a break from the heat as many migrating animals begin their journey south. One such critter is the monarch butterfly. These beauties usually pass through Alabama in late September and early October as they head to their wintering grounds in Mexico. Be sure to keep an eye out for these distinctive orange, black, and white butterflies in state parks and in your backyards over the next several weeks.

Each year, several generations of monarchs are born in the United States during the spring and summer months. Most of these butterflies live less than 5 weeks! Only the last generation of the summer will live long enough to make the journey to overwinter in Mexico, and they are capable of living 8-9 months in order to survive the journey south and then return from Mexico the following spring. It is remarkable to see the migrating monarchs following the same route as the generations before them even though they are first time travelers. In recent years, population numbers for the monarchs have been decreasing partially due to habitat degradation. Monarch larvae feed exclusively on the perennial plant milkweed which means they are dependent on this plant for survival.

Monarch Watch is a nonprofit program in Kansas whose mission states that they "strive to provide the public with information about the biology of monarch butterflies, their spectacular migration, and how to use monarchs to further science education in primary and secondary schools. We engage in research on monarch migration biology and monarch population dynamics to better understand how to conserve the monarch migration. We also promote protection of monarch habitats throughout North America." One way that this organization is monitoring habitat is by having monarch waystations throughout the United States. These waystations provide valuable food resources to the monarchs by creating areas of monarch habitat. You can turn your backyard into a waystation to provide the monarchs with necessary resources by signing up with Monarch Watch. They provide all the resources you need to get started.   The Oak Mountain Interpretive Center (OMIC) at Oak Mountain State Park is an official waystation which features a great butterfly garden. If you have never been to the OMIC, perhaps this is the time to go! In addition to being a Monarch Watch waystation, the center also features some incredible learning exhibits you don't want to miss.

As autumn brings its cooler temperatures, we hope you will take time to enjoy time in one of the parks, and perhaps you will see one of the beautiful monarch butterflies as they make their journey south.


Photo by Keenan Adams | CC by 2.0

Tuesday, September 22, 2015