Photo courtesy of Katja Shulz

A Look at Monarch Watch

attendees-editedEvery fall, hundreds of millions of monarchs fly from the United States and Canada to Mexico, where they can thrive during the winter. Monarchs are passing through Lawrence
right now, something we celebrated at the Monarch Watch Fall Open House this past Saturday. A mix of scientists, KU students and Lawrence families gathered at Foley Hall on West Campus to learn more about the monarch butterfly migration and some of the things that are threatening it.

With half of the Open House being outside, it couldn’t have been a more beautiful day to walk around the butterfly and pollinator garden that’s kept by the Douglas County Master Gardeners. Kids and caterpillars alike were enjoying the hundreds of different plant species, all of them with the purpose to keep pollinators – and our ecosystem – thriving.

There were also attractions inside Foley Hall like a honey bee observation hive, live tarantulas and educational games for kids. No matter where you went, there were Douglas County Master Gardeners and Monarch Watch employees more than happy to answer any questions.

This event was a big one because KU is actually a leader in monarch butterfly research, thanks to our educational outreach program called Monarch Watch. It was created in 1992 by KU professor Dr. Chip Taylor and focuses on education, research and conservation of the butterfly’s migration.

“One of the main things that we do is ship caterpillars off to different schools so they can see the monarchs develop, so it’s learning the process for them. We also put together tagging kits and tag monarchs to track their migration,” said Hannah Cavanaugh, a KU junior and Monarch Watch lab assistant working at the Open House.

coloring-activityThis work is more important now than ever because butterflies – along with honeybees – are some of the most important pollinators to our ecosystem. Loss of habitat and the use of toxic pesticides are causing steady declines in both species. If we lose these pollinators, the existence of nearly all fruits and vegetables would go with them and cause a disastrous domino effect up the food chain.

Like Hannah, Haley Flickinger is another KU student working for Monarch Watch. I asked her the main lesson is that Monarch Watch is trying to enforce in the community.

“Generally, how bad it is if all bees and butterflies disappear because they’re so important to our crops. People don’t realize that we’re destroying their habitats and it’s a very important thing to our survival also. Especially monarchs and other species, they like environments like marshes, and a lot of those are being developed. Some areas don’t have any monarchs left. They are considering being put on the endangered species list right now,” said Haley.

But don’t leave it up to Monarch Watch. There are many ways YOU can take action against the threats toward the monarch butterfly migration and population. Here are a few simple ones.

  1. Plant milkweed in your yard or garden. Milkweed is so common around the United States that there should be multiple different species native to your area. Not only will you be helping a good cause, the local ecosystem and your own garden, but you’ll also be attracting beautiful butterflies to watch from your window.
  2. Skip out on the pesticides. Avoid these chemicals in your yard. They may make gardening easier for you, but they are toxic to monarch butterflies. This is a large contributor to their declining population, mostly caused by mass-scale farmers, but this small change on an individual scale can add up to make a big difference.
  3. Avoid genetically modified foods. The seeds of these GMOs are especially resistant to regular pesticides, so when farmers spray more and more, they kill more and more milkweed. Vote with your money!

By taking action, you can make a difference and maybe help one more monarch butterfly make it through their migration. To find out more information about Monarch Watch, visit their website here.