Monarchs reign as seasonal migration moves through Oklahoma
Monarch butterflies fill the skies of Oklahoma in late September as they embark on their southern migration for the winter.
Each year, these iconic orange and black butterflies make their 3,000-mile journey from Canada to Mexico in the fall with the goal to return in the spring. This journey can take several months, and they are typically only seen in Oklahoma for a couple weeks of this journey, mainly the last week of September and the first week of October.
Even though we see them every year, this species’ population has declined over 80% the last 30 years and is considered endangered according to the World Wildlife Fund; however, there are many ways individuals can get involved to help support this iconic species.
Amy Stephens, a former educator and historian for the Oklahoma City Zoo, is currently the director of the Edmond History Museum. With over two decades of experience with this species, she shared how locals can support the monarch population.
“[Monarchs have] this migration that no other butterflies do,” Stephens said, noting that one of the best ways to help monarchs is by helping researchers better understand their migration patterns.
Each year, Monarch Watch, an organization dedicated to the conservation as well as education and research surrounding monarch butterflies, relies on community scientists to help tag thousands of butterflies.
Tagging requires placing an identification sticker on the butterfly’s wing and documenting basic information about it, which can be done with a tagging kit ordered through Monarch Watch.
“Many people are nervous about tagging them,” Stephens said. ”But after the first one, they are normally much more comfortable with it.”
Stephens said that the fall migrators have “sturdier bodies and wings,” so anyone can tag them without worrying about hurting them.
“It is an activity that my boys and I get excited for every year, and we all take part,” Stephens said, adding that it is a great way to get the whole family involved in science, and in her case, it became a family tradition.
Tagging requires planning ahead by ordering the kit, but there are other things that can be done to support monarchs and their migration without capturing them, such as planting native plants that are essential to their survival.
In Oklahoma, variations of milkweed and goldenrod are among their favorites, with milkweed being their chosen plant for laying eggs. Since these are native plants, they are also prone to surviving Oklahoma weather and are often self-sustainable. An area with even a few of these plants help, but just one or two can often be hard for them to spot, Stephens said.
Individuals and businesses who choose to dedicate a large amount of space for these plants can apply to become a “certified monarch waystation” through Monarch Watch if the space meets their program requirements.
“Similar to when you are on a long car ride, these waypoints act as a rest stop for the butterflies,” Stephens said.
Their journey is long and can be treacherous, so these spots enable monarchs to take a break and “refuel” before continuing south to . It also provides them a safe place from weather and predators.
Edmond can expect to see monarch butterflies around for the next couple of weeks as their migration is in full swing, but they still have a long road ahead of them.