Monarch in Watson Woods Riparian Preserve
Photo Credit: Denise and Rob Gibbs

Monarchs Returning

Right on schedule, monarch butterflies are appearing in the Prescott area. A number of astute observers report seeing these familiar butterflies returning to their haunts in Watson Woods Riparian Preserve, along the Willow Lake trail system, and in monarch-friendly gardens throughout the community. Thanks to Suzanne Yoder for the remarkable video of a monarch laying an egg in her backyard garden, and Cathy Palm-Gessner for sharing the video with us. Planting for monarchs, as Suzanne and many others are doing, has led to some recovery of monarch numbers after their dramatic decline over the last few decades due to pesticides and loss of milkweed, a critical food source through all the monarch’s life stages. While toxic to most insects and animals, monarchs are able to store the milkweed’s toxins in their exoskeletons and wings making them undesirable to many predators.

Click on image to enlarge. Look carefully – There is a freshly laid monarch butterfly egg in the horsetail milkweed (Asclepias subverticillata).

Photo Credit: Suzanne Yoder

Migrating monarchs start appearing in numbers in the middle elevation deserts of Arizona (of which the Prescott area is  part of) in the spring, with some staying on to breed. The migration patterns of monarchs in the Southwest, though, have until recently been a bit of a gray area for the scientific community. Thanks to the efforts of Southwest Monarch Study and scores of citizen scientist observers, much has been learned of the complex migration patterns and intertwined monarch populations in our region.

From the research being done on monarchs, some of the gaps in understanding monarch migrations is being filled in. Monarch numbers in the Prescott area and surrounding middle elevation deserts increase in July and August, coinciding with the second green-up prompted by monsoon rains. This generation of monarchs will then join the peak migration in the fall, returning to several wintering territories. As has been speculated for some time, monarch tagging efforts are showing that Arizona monarchs migrate to both Mexico and California with their destination being determined literally by which way the wind is blowing. Monarchs conserve energy by riding thermals and upper winds in their lengthy migrations, so seasonal and yearly weather variations can take them south or west with some populations remaining over the winter in lower, warmer parts of the state.

With the help of citizen scientist volunteers, Southwest Monarch Study is expanding its tagging and monitoring efforts throughout Arizona. With increased tagging and monitoring, researchers have been able to track the butterflies and map where and when the tagged monarchs are recovered. Results from this work continue to give us a better understanding of monarch populations in the Southwest, and helping to focus recovery efforts for this iconic butterfly.

Encounter with queen caterpillar-Milkweed planting activity, Watson Woods, October 2016

Prescott Creeks is proud to partner with Southwest Monarch Study in including milkweed in our active Watson Woods Riparian Preserve restoration efforts. While several native milkweed species are found in the Preserve and surrounding open areas, we are watching plantings done in fall of 2016 to monitor success as the plants take root during this rainy season. In the coming years, it is hoped that Watson Woods continues to attract both monarch butterflies and those watching and tagging monarchs in the area.

Prescott Creeks relies on your support to expand these kinds of restoration and recovery efforts in our community. Please consider joining us in these efforts by becoming a member or making a donation to Prescott Creeks. There are also a variety of opportunities to volunteer in our restoration projects and other activities.

For more information on monarchs, what you can do in your own yard and garden to help monarch recovery, and national and regional monarch research and restoration programs, visit:

Telltale milky sap of genus Asclepias (milkweed)

Morris, Gail M., Christopher Kline & Scott M. Morris, PSM, PhD. Status of Danaus  plexippus in Arizona. Ten Findings of Status of Danaus plexippus in Arizona.pdf

Cowan, Emery. Milkweed for monarchs. Arizona Daily Sun. June 4, 2015.

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