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Monarch Butterfly Program

The migration population of Monarch butterflies reached an all-time low in 2013/14. Environmental conditions, including herbicide use and land use changes, have reduced the habitat needed for reproduction. 

It is a North America-wide conservation effort to retain and improve Monarch populations. The City's Monarch Butterfly Program aims to enhance Monarch butterfly habitat in Barrie, raise awareness about this issue, and inspire national efforts to increase habitat for Monarch butterflies across Canada. You can help!

Program Timelines

Spring 2015 Build Pilot Program
Summer 2015 Pilot Seeding for City Projects
Fall 2015 Pilot Seeding at Schools
Spring 2017 Update from Pilot programs

Monarch caterpillarMonarch butterflyMonarch butterflyCommon Milkweed

The Benefits of Monarchs

The Monarch is a beautiful example of the benefits of pollinating insects; its life cycle includes pollination of flowers, fruit bearing plants, shrubs and trees. Loss of these insects contributes to global decrease of pollinating plant life. 

What Monarchs Look Like

The Monarch butterfly is showy orange and black with small white spots, relatively large with a wingspan reaching 93–105 millimetres. The Monarch’s caterpillar is easily recognized: It has black, white and yellow stripes and can be found feeding on milkweed plants. After their feeding and growth stage, the Monarch caterpillar moults into a striking jade-coloured chrysalis with golden spots.

Where Monarchs Live

Throughout their life cycle, Monarchs use three different types of habitat:

  1. The caterpillars feed on milkweed plants and are confined to meadows and open areas where milkweed grows.
  2. Adult butterflies can be found in more diverse habitats where they feed on nectar from a variety of wildflowers.
  3. Winters are spent in Oyamel Fir forests found in central Mexico.

Where Monarchs Have Been Found

The Monarch’s range extends from Central America to southern Canada. In Canada, Monarchs are most abundant in southern Ontario and Quebec where milkweed plants and breeding habitat are widespread. During late summer and fall, Monarchs from Ontario migrate to central Mexico where they spend the winter months. During migration, groups numbering in the thousands can be seen along the north shores of Lake Ontario and Lake Erie.

Monarch Facts

  • In the fall, Monarchs travel up to 3,000 km between breeding grounds in eastern North America and overwintering sites in central Mexico; some Monarchs can travel an astonishing 80 km in a single day
  • Although most adult Monarchs only live for about 4–5 weeks, individuals that metamorphose into butterflies during autumn can live for 7–8 months (it is this generation that migrates south for the Canadian winter).
  • Monarchs that travel from eastern North America to Mexico are not the same ones that return the following spring. As they leave the winter sites in Mexico, these older butterflies lay eggs in the southern United States; the descendants of that generation are the ones that fly north to Canada.
  • There is a toxin in milkweed plants that Monarch caterpillars are able to store in their bodies as they feed; the toxin stays in their system and makes the adults poisonous to bird predators.

How You Can Help

Plant a butterfly garden that includes Common Milkweed (Perennial Native plant). Monarch butterflies only lay eggs on plants in the Milkweed family. Milkweed host-plants are the only food Monarch caterpillars eat. Plants grow 60–120 cm (2–4') tall. Seed from mature plants disperses easily by wind action.

Growing Milkweed
How to Grow Outside:
Naturally stratify seed by sowing directly outdoors in the fall in a sunny site - cover seed very lightly with soil.

Sow seed in a soil-less medium in late February, barely cover seed as diffuse light aids germination. Stratify seed by placing container in a refrigerator or other cold place for 3 months. Bring the container out and keep at 20 C (70 F) for the 10–18 day germination period. Grow on under lights at a slightly cooler temperature before hardening off and transplanting outside after the danger of frost has passed. Plants grow 60-120 cm (2-4') tall. Seed from mature plants disperses easily by wind action.
Blooming Season Begins High Summer
Life Cycle Perennial
Propagation Sow Direct
Days to Emergence 10–18
Light Full Sun
Height Tall (> 70 cm)
Frost Tolerance Winter Hardy
Degree of Difficulty Easy
Suggested uses Native habitat rejuvenation and regeneration
Butterfly and wildlife garden essential
Monarch butterfly favourite
Source: OSC Seeds.

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