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Save the Monarch, Don’t Mow that Milkweed!

Help this season’s last generation to survive


by Melissa Bravo - August 17, 2015

If you were looking, you might have noticed that Monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) arrived back in Pennsylvania in late May to mid-June to lay their eggs. The Monarch is a migratory species, flying hundreds of miles to Mexico and beyond for the winter. They return en masse to the northern hemisphere to lay their eggs on just one genus, the Asclepias or milkweed family. This genus has about 20 species that are found in our region such as common milkweed, swamp milkweed, and butterfly weed. The metamorphosis process takes 28 to 38 days and begins in the southern states in early March. By the time the butterflies arrive in our neck of the woods, they are second and even third generation.


The blog indicates that migration sightings of returning adults peaked in the northeast around July 16th which would mean that emerging new butterflies should be appearing any day now. With the way the weather this spring delayed the harvest of hay, it’s very possible that this change in harvesting dates is going to have an impact on the development of the Monarch butterfly eggs that are hatching on the underside of milkweed leaves-it remains’ to be seen if this impact will be a negative or a positive one?

The Tioga County Woodland Owner’s Association recently held a Monarch butterfly tour at Ron and Anne Kamzelski’s property in Wellsboro where Anne, a professional photographer, has been monitoring the Monarch metamorphosis in her butterfly gardens. Anne has graciously provided Wellsboro Home Page with her Monarch butterfly photo art for this article that she created by photographing the life stages of a monarch butterfly in her garden.


While Monarch’s only lay eggs on milkweed species, they gather pollen and nectar from all sorts of flowering plants. Monarch’s also like to mud-puddle for nutrients. So if you see one in a puddle of water it might just have landed their deliberately as a way to get some much-needed sustenance.

So, what do Monarch butterflies eat? They suck up nectar with their tongue, called a proboscis, from plants like golden rod, thistle, and wild carrot, and crops like red clover and alfalfa. Monarchs will also seek out nectar from poisonous plants like milkweed. The latex-like toxin in milkweed sap is a deterrent to predators that would normally eat such an attractive looking butterfly.

Sound familiar? Those are common weeds of roadsides and clover and alfalfa hayfields. Unfortunately, we often rush out to mow them down before they can go to seed and this is having a significant impact on the Monarch population. According to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources who track Monarch butterfly numbers “Monarch populations have been rapidly declining in North America. From 1999 through 2012 in the Midwestern United States, there was a 64 percent decrease in the amount of milkweed available and an 88 percent decline in the number of monarchs present. For the 2013-2014 overwintering season in Mexico, monarchs covered just 0.67 hectares (1.66 acres) of forest, the smallest amount of overwintering monarchs seen in these locations since they were discovered. The largest area in the past 20 years was 20.97 hectares (51.82 acres) in the winter of 1996-97”.

One thing landowner’s and farmers in Pennsylvania and New York can do to help this season’s last generation to survive, is to identify where in their field’s populations of flowering milkweed are present, and leave them untouched until September when the Monarch’s will begin to leave the area. I often find pockets of milkweed in no-till corn fields, around old barns, and along rocky outcrops in permanent grass hay fields amongst other locations.

If you would like to participate in the Monarch Butterfly Monitoring Project check out some of the link’s in this article, or form your own local group. Please contact Anne Kamzelski at to order colored prints of her beautiful Monarch Butterfly Life Cycle photography.


Writing: Melissa Bravo


Produced by Vogt Media

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