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Southwestern drought causes fewer Monarchs in this area

  • A millstone stands against the front wall of the mill.
    A millstone stands against the front wall of the mill.
Published October 05. 2013 09:00AM

Tagging Monarch butterflies who are on their migration at this time of year is always part of the Lehigh Gap Nature Center Migration Fest which was held Sept. 28.

Due to a drought in Texas and Oklahoma when the butterflies were returning from Mexico, many died and the number at the Nature Center was well below normal.

It takes four generations for the Monarchs to return from Mexico because they stop and feed and breed so a new generation can continue the journey.

Dan Kunkle, director of the center, said the Monarchs' migration is the most phenomenal migration there is.

"There were days last year when we tagged 30 in a day," Carl Kocher said. His family tags them at their home and at other sites, and came with their own card of tags.

A Milbert's tortoise shell butterfly, the first butterfly seen on this hike, is one of the few butterflies that overwinter in their adult form. They migrate to the southern United States.

"If we give nature half a chance it springs back," Kunkle said, and the 5,000 children who visited last year may care enough to provide that chance.

Anita Collins led a tour of the habitat-pollination gardens. She said the gardens provide habitat and food for insects, birds and amphibians.

The location of plants is based on whether they prefer sun or shade and wet or dry.

Invasive plants are discouraged, but native plants that move in are allowed to thrive along with those natives that were intentionally planted.

Many of the plants are in the seed-producing stage rather than the colorful flowers found earlier in the year. To fully enjoy the garden Kunkle said at least monthly visits are required because there is such a change throughout the year.

He dispelled a well-believed story about goldenrod of which there are several kinds in the gardens. The pollen is heavy and wet and doesn't get moved by the wind. Consequently, it does not cause allergies as many people believe.

The staghorn sumac is recognized by the fuzz on the branches like a deer has on its antlers.

The milkweed, favored as a food for Monarch butterflies, has an emetic poison which does not bother them, but predators of the butterflies have learned that eating one will make them sick.

Cattails moved into a small water garden on their own. Cedar Waxwings will come to eat service berries even when Kunkle is standing nearby. And did you know that some mints have square stems.

Kelsen Metz, an intern, is spending a lot of time photographing pollinators to learn what plants they prefer.

Collins said some plants grow too thick and have to be thinned, but the garden volunteers do the least management that retains the health of the gardens.

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