They Were Just Here A Minute Ago!

They Were Just Here A Minute Ago!

Rick Mikula joins us again with an update on the Monarchs and some great advice on how you can help them even when they aren't around.


On August 22nd it seemed that a giant flood gate was opened and Monarchs seemed to appear everywhere.  And I do mean everywhere. I can personally say that my Monarch Migration Station garden was total Monarch Madness. With Fall blooming flowers such as Montague Daisies, Mexican Sunflowers, Phlox, and Zinnias those hungry wanderers were treated to the vital nectar that they needed to complete their trip to Mexico. The real show was provided by our Buddleia. There were times that the branches literally bent downward from the sheer numbers of Monarchs hanging onto the blooms. It was such a pleasure to see them elbow each other out of the way in a feeding frenzy. And with six legs each that was a lot of elbowing. It just wasn’t the monarchs that enjoyed our Autumn buffet, Painted Ladies, Red Admirals along with assorted skippers and swallowtails all vied for their chance at the dinner line.


It just wasn’t my garden by the end of August they were just about everywhere I went. Roadsides, meadows and fields all played host to those amazing orange and black travelers. Many encouraging reports also came in from fellow observers through the Mid-West and along the East Coast that were seeing good numbers in their gardens as well. Even after Harvey and Irma played havoc with the southern states large numbers of monarchs still showed up again once the hurricanes were gone. We just need to keep our tarsi crossed that enough nectar sources remained in place to help them refuel along the way.



If you would like to keep up to date with just were peak number of Monarchs can be seen during Fall migration visit our friends at Journey North for the latest reports.  In the spring, Journey North also posts the leading edge of the Spring time returnees and where and when you could expect to find them in your area.


During this time of year you need to keep your eyes open for one of the most amazing part of the Fall migration, the roost tree. Although Monarchs prefer to live a solitary lifestyle most of the summer during the Autumn they exhibit a behavior of roosting collectively at night. Some roost trees can host hundreds of Monarchs but just for the night. The next morning they will go off individually finding their way to the over wintering sites near Morelia, Mexico in the state of Michoacán. Once they arrive they will roost together every night until the following March when it is time to leave head north again. There are several suggestions as to why they roost collectively. One theory is that the weight of so many body concentrated together will keep the wind from blowing the branches all around which could dislodge the sleeping Monarch from their beds. Whipping branches can also damage wings. It is also thought that large numbers of individuals concentrated together will help to conserve body heat like bees in an overwintering hive. More bodies provide more warmth. No one knows for sure why they will choose a certain tree on their way south because they just seem to do it randomly.  And it is not the same trees in the same place year after year. Roost trees just seem to pop up. It could be a tree in your yard or your neighbors. It could a tree in a city park or in the middle of nowhere but for some reason when the time is right they just begin to alight on a chosen tree. So keep your eyes open and you may be rewarded to a sight very few people ever get to see.


On September 22nd the first official day of Fall someone closed the migration gate and the Monarchs became far and few between. The major wave of migrators had passed through but stragglers will continue to pass by until mid- November. The latest Monarch that I saw last Fall in Northeast Pennsylvania was November 19 the Thursday before Thanksgiving. I always keep on the lookout for the last Monarch of the years as I do for the first of the following year.


Whether you gather them from your garden or from a field this is the time of year to collect seeds to plant next Spring. First and most important is to remember to wear gloves whenever working with milkweeds plants. The white latex (sap) can cause severe eye damage if contact is made. In some cases it can actually cause permanently damage to your corneas. Seeds can be collected from either green or dried up grayish pods. The easiest way to collect the seeds before they explode from their pod is to wrap the entire pod loosely with some type of mesh. Old onion bags, a piece of screening, even a cut section from panty hose will work nicely. Use caution here because using the entire pair of panty hose intact just may draw some odd stares from your neighbors.



If you are using green pods make sure that the seeds are ripe. The seeds should be dark brown and very visual through a split in the pod. Take the pod and split it open with your fingers to fully expose the seeds. They can then be scooped out with your fingers and dropped into a waiting container. With the dried grayish pods the down will seem to be just about bursting out and the seeds will be very visible. At this point you can be sure they are ready for picking. My favorite way to separate the seeds from the dried pods is to place them into a paper bag. Close and roll of the top of the bag down a bit to making sure that the fluffy down cannot escape through the opening. Shake the bag vigorously and you soon hear the seeds bouncing around the inside of the bag. Hold the bag so that one corner is lower than the others and you should be able to feel the seeds that have separated from the pod. While holding the bag over a something for them to fall into gently tear the corner of the bag and allow the seeds to drain into it. When you are finished, do not open the top of the bag otherwise you and everything nearby will be covered with fluffy down. Everything everywhere will be covered. Trust me on this one.



The seeds of many species of milkweed such as common milkweed Asclepias syriaca, need to be stratified for success full germination. Seeds from Asclepias curassavica (and other tropical milkweed species) do not require this treatment. Stratifying seeds can accomplished is several ways. If you intend on keeping them in your refrigerator place the seeds between two moist paper towels and put them inside a plastic bag. This procedure will protect your seeds from fungi and bacteria that can develop in a damp and warm situation. With this cold storage method they will require a stratification period of about 3 to 6 weeks.


I prefer to overwinter my seeds in paper bags and hung in an unheated garage until Spring. The paper bag allows me to make notes on the side as to species, locale date collected and eliminates any guess work the following planting season as to origin.


Regardless of which method you choose to collect seeds now and collect enough to share with you friends. In fact share them with anyone that is willing to plant them. More milkweed means more Monarchs!



#SaveTheMonarchs #Milkweed #FrameItAll #mms #butterflies #monarchs #RickMikula #TheButterflyGuy

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