Species Spotlight: Monarch Butterfly

By Michelle Ferrell, MNA Intern

Beautiful and bold, butterflies have captured the interests and imaginations of people for millennia. Few have been as iconic as the Monarch butterfly. With a historic range spanning over 3,000 miles across North and Central America, as well as the northern part of South America, it is also the most well-traveled. Every spring, millions of these winged wonders make the journey north as far as Canada from their wintering spots in Mexico.

It’s one of nature’s most fascinating phenomena, as no living Monarch has ever made the journey before, and yet they reliably fly in the same direction, year after year. By the time they reach the northernmost part of their range, five generations of Monarchs will have lived, bred and died, leaving their offspring to carry the torch. This final generation, born in late summer, will be the lucky ones to migrate south to overwinter for eight months before beginning the journey north again the following spring.

Monarch on a goldenrod – Wendy Caldwell, Monarch Joint Venture

As many of us have seen, the Monarch is a mid-sized butterfly with a distinctive orange and black wing pattern accented with white spots. Predators should take care not to confuse it with the strikingly similar Viceroy, whose hind wings have a black line that the Monarch lacks. This small difference is important to note, because the Monarch is toxic. Its caterpillars have an equally distinctive appearance, their stout bodies banded with yellow, black and white. Because Monarchs lay their eggs exclusively on milkweed plants, the caterpillars grow up eating nothing else – rendering them their toxicity.

Largely the result of habitat loss, there has been a nearly 90% decline in the population of the Eastern monarch, which is the largest subset of the species and that which carries its migration into Michigan. The loss of habitat includes breeding grounds across the U.S. and overwintering habitat in Mexico, as well as a variety of habitats in which to rest and refuel on their exhaustive journey. This is a grave concern, as pollinators supply 1/3 of the world’s food and 3/4 of its flowers, and apart from being lovely, Monarchs are one of the most common and widespread butterfly species.

Few insects are as beloved as the Monarch. Several initiatives are underway to preserve the necessary habitats to sustain their populations, including the Monarch Joint Venture and Journey North. The Michigan Nature Association is hosting its annual Monarch March Family Fun Run & 5k at Mayor’s Riverfront Park in Kalamazoo on Sunday, October 1 to promote efforts to preserve Monarch habitat throughout Michigan.

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Contact Jess Foxen at jfoxen@michigannature.org to learn more, or register online. The fee for adults is $25, children $10, and includes a t-shirt and participatory medal. If you’re more into pizza than running, you can also show your support for the majestic Monarch by showing this flyer with your order at Blaze Pizza at 5015 W Main Street in Kalamazoo on September 30th from 3-7pm. A portion of the proceeds will be donated to MNA to support their mission of preserving Michigan’s natural heritage.

Read more about MNA’s involvement with Monarch conservation and keep current on other important news with the Fall 2017 publication of Michigan Nature magazine!

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2017 Race for Michigan Nature to Benefit Endangered Species

5K Race Banner for social media

Sign up today! 
Join MNA in the Race for Michigan Nature series across the state

Enjoy the beautiful outdoors and run, walk, or jog along the park trails in select cities across Michigan with the Michigan Nature Association!

MNA’s statewide Race for Michigan Nature series of Family Fun Runs & 5Ks stretches from Belle Isle in Detroit to Marquette in the U.P. The races are  endorsed by the Governor’s Council on Physical Fitness, Health and Sports and qualify for the Pure Michigan Challenge.

The Family Fun Runs & 5Ks will promote efforts to preserve habitat for threatened and endangered species throughout Michigan.

Register Today

Bring the whole family! The Kids Fun Run will be a 1 mile race 30 minutes prior to the 5K.

Kids 1 Mile Fun Run: $10
5K Run/Walk: Early registration is just $25 ($30 day-of).

Participants will receive a commemorative Run t-shirt and a finisher medal!
Prizes for the top male and female runners.

If you have any questions please call Jess at
866-223-2231 or email her at jfoxen@michigannature.org.

We hope to see you there!

Find a race in your area!

​Karner Blue Butterfly Family Fun Run & 5K
Saturday, May 20
Millennium Park, Grand Rapids
Register!

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Moose on the Loose Family Fun Run & 5K
Saturday, August 26
Presque Isle Park, Marquette
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Rattlesnake Family Fun Run & 5K
Sunday, September 17
Paint Creek Trail, Rochester
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Turtle Family Fun Run & 5K
Sunday, September 24
Gallup Park, Ann Arbor
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Monarch March Family Fun Run & 5K
Sunday, October 1
Mayor’s Riverfront Park, Kalamazoo
Register!

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Sturgeon Sprint Family Fun Run & 5K
Sunday, October 8
Belle Isle Park, Detroit
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