Plant Milkweed for Monarchs in Minnesota

Monarchs, Migration, Milkweed

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Of the 17,500 species of butterfly in the world, the Monarch butterfly is one of the most recognizable. They are interesting creatures because monarchs migrate from Canada and the United States to Mexico for the winter and back again in the spring.

Why do monarchs migrate?

Winter is too cold. A lot of us have said the same but when the temperatures drop to 32°F, they can die. At those temperatures their food sources die out so they head south.

How do they do it?

They are light-sensitive and follow the sun. They also have an internal magnetic compass, located in their antennae, tuned in to the Earth’s magnetic fields to keep them on track.

Are monarchs endangered?

Loss of habitat and climate change has resulted in a 90% decline in Monarch populations since the 1990s. The monarch is currently a candidate for listing under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), and its status will be reviewed each year until it is no longer a candidate. In December 2020, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service determined that "adding the monarch butterfly to the list of threatened and endangered species is warranted but precluded by work on higher-priority listing actions."

What can I do to help?

Monarchs lay their eggs on milkweed and developing caterpillars feed on it. Without milkweed, Monarchs can't reproduce. Plant milkweed and monarch nectar plants. Don’t use pesticides. And support efforts to combat climate change.

Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), swamp milkweed (A. incarnata), and butterflyweed (A. tuberosa) are native in many regions, including Minnesota. Use the National Wildlife Federation Native Plant Finder to search by zip code for native milkweed species.

Other Fun Facts

  • The scientific name for Monarchs is Danaus plexippus which is Greek for “sleepy transformation”.
  • Caterpillars will hibernate and go through metamorphosis, emerging as an adult monarch butterfly. Monarch’s life span is only 3 to 4 months.
  • Monarchs are poisonous. The poison comes from their diet. Milkweed is poisonous.
  • If they emerge in the spring or early summer, they start to reproduce. The resulting offspring will be the ones to migrate south. Migration starts in October.
  • If they emerge in late summer or fall, those monarchs will immediately head south and reproduce in Mexico.
  • Since monarchs are sensitive to temperature changes, climate change may also affect their survival.

More Information and Resources

Xerces Society Monarch Nectar Plants: Great Lakes Region (PDF) This guide features Great Lakes native plants that have documented monarch visitation, bloom during the times of year when monarchs are present, are commercially available, and are known to be hardy. Beyond supporting monarchs, many of these plants attract other nectar- and/or pollen-seeking butterflies, bees, moths and birds.

The Monarch Act of 2021 - The Monarch Action, Recovery, and Conservation of Habitat Act, or Monarch Act of 2021 introduced in the Senate by Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon and in the House of Representatives by Representatives Jimmy Panetta and Salud Carbajal of California will provide funding for conservation activities to restore, enhance, and manage overwintering and breeding habitats of monarch populations in the western U.S.

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