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Monarch Migration

This fall, keep an eye out for the butterflies.

Throughout September and early October, Monarch butterflies pass through the D.C. metro area as they make their annual migration south from Canada to Mexico.  

If you are lucky, you may see these beautiful creatures hovering around your flowers looking for nectar. Other nearby spots typically great for monarch spotting is , just off Russell Road at 320 Beverly Drive, and the Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge in Woodbridge.

Monarchs are the only butterflies that make such an impressive migration each year. Normal adults only live for about four or five weeks. But each autumn, a special group of monarchs are born, known as the Methuselah generation. These super butterflies can live for six to eight months, allowing them to migrate southward to winter in warmer climates. Somehow, generation after generation fly the same migration patterns, often returning to the very same trees as their ancestors. How cool is that?

Most tots don't have to be convinced that butterflies are cool. But the concept of migration is pretty neat, too, and offers a unique opportunity to incorporate geography, science and environmental conservation into the conversation.

Pull out a map of North America to show kids how monarchs travel between Canada and central Mexico each year, or take a trip to the Smithsonian's outdoor Butterfly Habitat Garden to learn about the plants that monarchs love. For a small fee, you can get up close and personal with the butterflies at the Smithsonian's indoor Butterfly Pavillion at the Museum of Natural History.

Plant a butterfly garden so that next spring and fall the butterflies can make pitstop at your house. Make sure not to use pesticides or herbicides, as they also kill the butterflies.  

For the younger set, Eric Carle's "The Very Hungry Caterpillar" is a gorgeous book that follows the metamorphasis from caterpillar to butterfly.

Terry Atkin Rowe October 02, 2011 at 01:19 PM
Monarchs are endangered partially due to the drought in Texas (and other states) they must pass thru on their migration to and from our state. Anything we can do to help them is a good thing to do. http://www.loudounwildlife.org/blog/2011/09/monarchs-about-to-migrate-through-1000-miles-of-hell/comment-page-1/#comment-5266
Jessica Stubbs October 07, 2011 at 11:42 AM
I totally agree Terry... I'd love to see the area become more of a haven for the Monarchs. They're such a unique creature. Thanks for the link!
Ann S. October 07, 2011 at 02:31 PM
Monarchs are unique! Thanks for the article. They are endangered because of loss of habitat--specifically Milkweed, which is the ONLY plant where they lay eggs and are the only food source for t he larvae. People should be encouraged to plant milkweed in gardens...there are a few varieties. Then you might have monarchs nearby...maybe in your own garden. For migration they nectar along the way so autumn flowers such as sedum are good resources. Lots of info on Internet....look for educational sites.
Ann S. October 07, 2011 at 02:37 PM
p.s. Hungry Caterpiillar Is a great book. When I read it to my pre-schoolers they loved it. However, Carle uses the term 'cocoon' for butterflies...it should be chrysalis. I told my classes this, explaining the differences and the 3 year olds took it to heart. They appreciated knowing the "real" word!
Terry Atkin Rowe October 07, 2011 at 02:59 PM
Free milkweed seeds here, and as Ann S. said, there's lots of info on the internet about how to help. I'd rather plant a butterfly garden then a front lawn. http://www.livemonarch.com/free-milkweed-seeds.htm

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