Each fall, monarch butterflies migrate from eastern North America to Mexico, a distance of over 4,000km. (Monarchs west of the Rocky Mountains migrate to California.) Millions of monarchs gather in the Sierra Madre Mountains in Mexico in the oyamel fir forests and stay there for the winter. In the spring, monarchs begin their journey back north. On their northern migration, monarchs mate and lay eggs. Those eggs become caterpillars and then chrysalises. New butterflies emerge and continue the journey. This happens two, three or four times during the northern migration. The butterflies that complete the return journey are the offspring of those that left in the fall - the super monarchs. The Monarch Ultra story begins with the fall migration in eastern North America and ends in the Sierra Madre Mountains. Our journey will follow the monarch migration and the special place it has in the history of the land and with the communities along the route.
WHAT'S SO SPECIAL ABOUT MILKWEED?
Once you make the connection between milkweed and monarchs, it's easy to see that this plant is a superpower in the world of pollinators. The monarchs's interdependence with this plant means that milkweed is the only host plant capable of sustaining its larvae. Monarchs are at a much great risk when habitat destruction decimates the one and only larval host plant they depend on. Milkweed also performs another vital task for both the caterpillar and the adult butterfly in creating a defence mechanism. As the caterpillar eats the leaves, it ingests toxic chemicals called cardenolides found in the milky sap. These terrible-tasting compounds make monarchs unpalatable to birds and other predators. Birds come to associate the colour and pattern of monarchs with a horrible taste, and learn to avoid them at all costs. You can support monarchs by planting milkweed! Monarchs usually lay only one egg per plant to ensure each new larva has plenty to eat. So we need gardeners, schools, and municipalities across North America to get involved by planting milkweed and creating pollinator-friendly habitats for monarchs and other pollinators to thrive!