Species Spotlight: Monarch

Get to know some of the species at risk in the Lac Deschênes IBA with the Species Spotlight, aka “Sp-Spot”. Today meet the: Monarch

Monarch butterfly

Monarch butterfly

Scientific Name:  Danaus plexippus
SARA status:  Special Concern; Ontario: Special Concern
Taxonomic Group:  Arthropods
Size:  wingspan of 8.6-10.5 cm

Adults are orange and black with white spots on the borders of the wings. The caterpillars are black, white and yellow stripped and can be found on milkweed plants. The chrysalis is a distinctive green and gold. Monarchs can sometimes be confused with the similar-looking, but smaller Viceroy, but are easily distinguished by the lack of a black band on the hind wing that runs parallel to the wing edge.

Look for the adult Monarchs feeding on the nectar of wildflowers and the caterpillars feeding on milkweed plants. You can encourage monarchs to come to your yard by planting a butterfly garden full of milkweeds and nectar-producing flowers, such as goldenrod, asters and black-eyed Susan. Want to plant your own monarch friendly garden? Check out Nature Canada’s tips here.

Monarch caterpillar Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Monarch caterpillar
Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Monarchs have been in news lately as this past winter record low population numbers were recorded. Itwas hoped that this spring and summer during their breeding season that the numbers would bounce back, but a cold spring and therefore late spring migration has meant that few monarch sightings have been reported in their northern breeding grounds. The fear is that this year’s numbers will be lower than last. There is hope that they will make a rebound in the coming year as monarchs, like most insects, can produce large numbers of offspring each year.

Where Else Can You See This Species?
There are two populations of Monarchs in North America, one to the west of the Rockies and the one to the East, members of which are found at the Lac Deschênes – Ottawa River Important Bird Area. The western population lives as far north as southern British Columbia and overwinters along the California coast. The population east of the Rocky Mountains is the population known for overwintering in the Oyamel Fir forests of Mexico. Monarchs can also be found in Central and South America, Australia, New Zealand, Hawaii and many other islands in both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Monarch are most commonly seen in the Lac Deschênes area from late spring to early fall.

Did You Know?
• Larvae ingest toxins from the milkweed making them poisonous to predators. The toxins stay in the body as the caterpillar pupates and the adult carries the toxins too.
• On their migration south, monarchs gather in large numbers along the Canadian shores of Lake Ontario and Lake Erie as they prepare to cross the water.
• The overwintering generation is the longest lived of the four or five monarch generations produced each year. These individuals can live about seven or eight months and are the ones that have migrated from their northern breeding grounds to the overwintering grounds in Mexico and they begin the journey north again in the spring. The other generations, living in the spring and summer months, survive for about two months.

Check back every week to read about a different species at risk that can be found in Lac Deschênes.
You can report sightings of this and other rare species to the Canadian Wildlife Service at (819) 997-2800 or on the MNR Natural Heritage Information Centre website. A photo and a location are very helpful!

We would like to thank our guest blogger Michelle Locke for this post. Michelle is a contract research technician at the Canadian National Collection of Insects, Arachnids and Nematodes. She studies flies of the family Syrphidae, the flower flies, but enjoys opportunities to work with and study all other forms of wildlife when she can.

this initiative is funded by