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The Great Monarch Migration

The journey of monarchs is one of the insect world’s greatest phenomena. Sometimes traveling thousands of miles to their destination, the instinct and environmental triggers that cause them to move are not fully understood by researchers.

Natural Phenomena

The north American monarch populations journey begins at their overwintering grounds in the mountains of Mexico. Monarchs cluster together on oyamel fir trees, nearly 2 miles above sea level; it is important for them to gather in groups to conserve body heat. Generation 1 monarchs are the offspring of those who migrated south the previous fall. As generation 1 moves north they will lay their eggs and the butterflies will die off. It will take 3 to 4 generations of butterflies throughout the summer to reach their northernmost point before returning back south again. The final group to be born before returning to their overwintering grounds is sometimes called the “super generation”. The super generation is the largest and strongest, since many of these travel up to 3,000 miles their size and stamina is pivotal to their ability to withstand the long treacherous trip ahead.

A Troubled Journey

The monarchs don’t have it easy. Over the last 40 years the monarch population has decreased by over 80%. Habitat destruction, roadkill, and illegal logging are mostly to blame. Native plant populations that once fed millions of monarchs have been destroyed or replaced by non-native lawns and ornamental horticultural plants. Without food and habitat sources the butterflies are at risk of total species collapse within the next 50 years. In areas of high automotive traffic states like Texas, where huge groups of monarchs converge, they are seeking to install protective netting over roadways to redirect the butterflies out of harms way. This method has proven highly effective amongst the Asian monarch populations.

Another detriment to the monarchs is the loss of milkweed. Milkweed is the host plant for monarch caterpillars, this means milkweed is the only plant that they can survive on. Without milkweed butterflies have no place to lay their eggs, leading to the further downfall and eventual extinction of monarchs entirely. Female monarchs lay eggs over a 2- 5 week period; resulting in about 300-400 eggs! Each egg is laid on a single milkweed plant. Collecting milkweed pods helps the monarchs as well as provides a food source for over 450 other species.

Monarch butterfly on milkweed flower
Monarch on Milkweed - Butler County, Ohio

How You Can Help

Butler Soil and Water Conservation District takes part in the Ohio Pollinator Habitat Initiative (OPHI), to educate the public and help create beneficial habitat for pollinators such as the monarch butterfly. OPHI formed after the 2014 petition to list the monarch as federally endangered or threatened. Milkweed is essential to the survival of monarch butterflies, being their only food source, and Ohio is a priority area for monarchs. To help foster the creation of habitat for the monarch butterfly, OPHI, in cooperation with the Ohio Soil and Water Conservation Districts, has organized a yearly Statewide Milkweed Pod Collection that typically takes place from September to early November.

Butler SWCD is an official drop-off location for Butler County residents who harvest milkweed pods collected on their properties. Please only collect milkweed pods when they are fully ripe, either grey or brown in color, and on property you have permission to collect from. When harvesting milkweed pods, wear gloves and place pods in either a paper or net bag. Once collected write the date and township/city that the pods are collected in on the bag. If you collect a variety of milkweed other than common, place in a separate bag and label it with the species. A green bin will be labeled and placed in the hallway of our building (1802 Princeton Rd, Hamilton 45011), open Monday through Friday from 8:00 am to 4:30pm. Drop-off is from now until November 12.

If you have any questions at all reach out to the Butler SWCD office by email at or phone at (513) 887-3720.


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