Monarch migration season is swiftly approaching in Wichita.
You may have seen evidence of this over the weekend, as monarch butterflies have begun trickling into the state as part of their annual journey southward to Mexico.
This fall, you may see more butterflies in the Wichita area than usual – though not all of them will be monarchs.
Painted lady butterflies – which look rather similar to monarchs – are flourishing in Wichita “exponentially more” than usual, according to Jim Mason, director of Wichita’s Great Plains Nature Center.
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Favorable weather conditions in Oklahoma and Texas earlier this year allowed multiple generations of painted ladies to thrive, Mason said.
Now those painted ladies have arrived in Wichita.
Enjoy them while you can, Mason said, because they won’t last long. Unlike monarchs, which have a north-south migration pattern, painted ladies – which have a lifespan of anywhere between two weeks and a month – don’t migrate away from cold temperatures.
“They will just generally go north and breed, lay eggs and die,” Mason said. “Come winter time, whichever ones are left here will perish – then the whole thing starts over again next year.”
Hundreds of millions of monarch butterflies, however, annually travel thousands of miles every year from the Dakotas, through Kansas and south to Mexico – where they attempt to wait out the winter in the oyamel fir forests of the Transvolcanic Range of central Mexico.
At the University of Kansas, Chip Taylor leads a conservation group dedicated to studying the butterflies, called Monarch Watch.
Among other things, the group administers a citizen-science program where people help track the annual monarch migration by catching the butterflies and affixing tags to their wings.
According to a July blog post, Taylor was optimistic monarch numbers would be greater than those of last year.
“This looks to be a good year for monarchs – with a stronger migration in most regions and a good prospect that the overwintering population will increase from the 2.91 hectares of last year to 4 hectares or better this coming winter,” Taylor wrote.
Many monarchs don’t make it to Mexico, as birds, spiders and cars traveling at high speeds can often kill the butterflies along their journey.
Want to help the butterflies?
Here are some ways you can do just that:
▪ Plant milkweed and nectar plants in your garden. Though some see milkweed as a nuisance to be eliminated from the garden, the plants are necessary for monarch butterflies. Milkweed is essential for monarch caterpillars and other nectar flowers (purple coneflowers, zinnias and Indian blankets, among others) provide essential food for the journey. If you do plant milkweed and other plants in your garden, make the commitment to avoid pesticides, which can poison the butterflies. After planting these butterfly-friendly flora, you can apply to be an official “Monarch Waystation” through Monarch Watch.
▪ Create a welcoming environment in your yard. It’s just like having guests over: you want to make sure they’re comfortable having a good night’s sleep at your house. Give traveling butterflies some water to drink by digging a shallow divot in the ground and keeping it wet. It’s also a good idea to have a shrub or tree where butterflies can roost overnight if need be. Also, some websites recommend putting a flat stone in your garden that gets lots of sunlight, to give butterflies a place to warm up. Butterflies can’t fly if they’re cold.
Monarch butterfly celebrations
There are a variety of celebrations planned in Wichita, tied to the monarch migration. Here’s information on them:
▪ Pollinator Party at Great Plains Nature Center, 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Sat., Great Plains Nature Center, 6232 E. 29th Street North
The Great Plains Nature Center is hosting this free event celebrating monarchs, bees and other pollinators on Saturday. Mason, the center’s director, said monarchs were already starting to flock to the Great Plains Nature Center as of Monday. “We’re hoping that there will be plenty sticking around here so that we can show people the real thing,” Mason said. People in attendance can watch monarchs be tagged for the Monarch Watch program at noon, 1 and 2 p.m.
▪ Monarch Mania, 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Sat., Quivira National Wildlife Refuge, 1434 NE 80th Street, Stafford
If you’re up for a bit of a drive this Saturday morning, you can see plenty of monarchs – as well as many unique species of birds – at Quivira National Wildlife Refuge over in Stafford County. Help catch monarchs to be tagged for Monarch Watch, and participate in crafts, face-painting and other fun activities.
▪ Butterfly Tagging - Nature Day Celebration, 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Sept. 23, Chaplin Nature Center, 27801 27th Drive, Arkansas City. (This nature center owned by the Wichita Audubon Society is off US-166, about 15 miles east of the Kansas Turnpike.) 620-442-4133. Nature hikes at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. Lunch available for purchase.
Free, www.wichitaaudubon.org; 620-442-4133
▪ Festival of the Monarch, 1-5 p.m. Sept. 24, Botanica, 701 N. Amidon
Children will have the opportunity to learn about monarch butterfly migration and play migration-related games. They can also watch as trained volunteers tag butterflies for the Monarch Watch program.