It’s that season. Monarch butterflies are leaving the upper reaches of their range in North America and heading south for over-wintering in high-altitude sanctuaries in Mexico’s Michoacan Mountains.
Depending upon your location in the southwestern US, the monarchs in your yard are probably the last generation of the summer and will make the trip to Mexico. According to the National Wildlife Federation, “Rather than breeding immediately, the over-wintering monarchs [Danaus plexippus to scientists] fly back to Mexico and stay there until the following spring. In the early spring, they fly north to the southern United States and breed. Over-wintering monarchs can live upwards of 8 months.”
While climbing 10,000 feet to a remote sanctuary is not in the cards for most of us, a newly released IMAX 3-D film The Flight of the Butterflies has done it for you. The film takes you from the miracle of a single egg that becomes a caterpillar feeding on milkweed, to emerging from the chrysalis to the splendid gathering of millions in the mountains. The film also tracks several people who spent decades trying to learn where the monarchs over-winter. (Listen to Morning Edition)
Wildfires, drought and some farming practices (pesticides that kill milkweed) are destroying the vegetation and flowers that monarchs depend on throughout their life cycle (host and nectar plants.). Want to help? Add monarch-friendly plants that are easy to grow in your yard – milkweed, butterfly bushes, flowering asclepias, ironweed and more.