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The Amazing Migrating Monarch Butterfly at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge

monarch butterfly print 125.gifFall is in the air and so are the migrating monarch butterflies, making their 2,000 mile trip from the northern American boundary to the mountains of central Mexico.  This amazing phenomenon passes through the Gulf coast of Florida beginning about the third week in October, and may be observed along the coast at the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge. 

Unlike other animal migrations, each monarch butterfly is on its own.  There is no parent to follow.  Its annual journey is a complex, inherited behavior pattern, not a learned process.  Migrating monarchs are usually those who hatch out in late summer.  The young females do not develop productive ovaries and so do not mate until they fly south. Monarchs have a 4-inch wingspan and weigh 1 gram (1/5 the weight of a penny).  They travel with cold fronts, often at speeds of 10 – 30 mph, covering 80 miles a day.  They may fly at 3,000 feet and higher and will “fall out” on the goldenrod and saltbush, blooming down at the lighthouse, and feed hungrily for their long trip.

{sidebar id=1}Volunteers have been tagging the St. Marks monarchs for many years, hoping a few would complete the trip to Mexico.  So far, only two have been recovered at the wintering site.  The research will continue this fall, with tagging volunteers checking to see if any St. Marks monarchs will be observed either migrating through Apalachicola to the west or Cedar Keys to the east.  Anyone out in Apalachee Bay or on St. Vincent NWR who observes migrating monarchs is asked to let us know – 850/925-6121 or email us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Sadly, this great migration is in trouble.  The nectar sources monarchs need for migration and the milkweed plants they need for their caterpillars are being replaced with development.  If you do live on the Gulf coast, leave shrubs and trees at the water’s edge for migrating monarchs and birds. If you live in the Big Bend, please plant nectar and milkweed plants in your yard for monarchs and other pollinators.  Many nurseries sell milkweed with monarch butterfly eggs laid under the leaves. Also, educate your family on providing habitat for all kinds of north Florida butterflies by attending one of the many butterfly classes at local nature centers and nurseries.

The refuge will be hosting its 21st annual celebration of the migration on Saturday, October 24, 2009, from 10 am – 4 pm.  The event is filled with the wonder of folks of all ages learning about tagging the monarchs, holding butterflies in their hands inside the live butterfly tent, charting their own “migration,” making butterfly crafts, talking with monarch butterfly researchers and other wonderful exhibitors, taking tours and walks and much more! 

Join us on Saturday, October 24, 2009 from 10 am – 4 pm to observe the miracle of migrating monarch butterflies in person.  Everything is open to the public as space allows, except for the guided auto tours.  We do ask folks to call 850/925-6121 after October 1 to reserve a space on the tour vans.  There is no cost for any of the tours or programs; however, the regular entrance fee into the refuge will be charged.

Click here to enjoy a Monarch Butterfly photo gallery by local photographer Lou Kellenberger.

This information originally published on September 2, 2009.

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