Each fall, hundreds of millions of monarch butterflies migrate from the United States and Canada to overwintering areas in Mexico and California where they wait out the winter until conditions favor a return flight in the spring. The monarch migration is truly one of the world’s greatest natural wonders, yet it is threatened by habitat loss in North America – at the overwintering sites and throughout the spring and summer breeding range as well.
The Good Zoo is helping to ensure the monarchs’ future by participating in Monarch Watch (www.monarchwatch.org). Zoo employees and zoo Master Naturalist students collect the caterpillars and rear them, and then tag the adult butterflies before releasing them. The purpose of the tagging is to associate the location of capture with the point of recovery for each butterfly and the data from these recaptures are used to determine the pathways taken by migrating monarchs, the influence of weather on the migration, the survival rate of the monarchs, and other data that is critical to the survival of the monarch butterfly and its magnificent migrations.
Penny Miller, Director of the Good Zoo, said monarchs are in our area from mid May to September. “The ones in early summer are reproductive and just live a few weeks. The monarchs here mid August-Oct are non-reproductive, they are migratory and just eat nectar, get fat and head to Mexico to hibernate.”
Miller said the monarchs tagged at the Good Zoo go clear to the cool, wet mountains of Mexico – covering more than 50 miles per day. “After hibernating all winter in Mexico, they wake up and start to head back north, reproducing along the way. By now they are several months old, so they die. Their offspring continue to head north, it will take 3 generations to get back to West Virginia by mid May,” said Miller.
In 2010 the Good Zoo tagged a record number of 350 monarchs, bringing the grand total to 864 monarchs tagged at the zoo since 2005.