Monarch migration through Nebraska

KMA land

Monarch migration set to pass through KMAland

Monarch Butterfly
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

(Omaha) — As millions of monarch butterflies prepare to migrate through the heart of the United States, scientists remain concerned about the species’ dwindling population.

At their peak, over one billion monarchs made the 3,000-mile trek through KMAland to a forest in Mexico for the winter. As recently as four years ago, the monarch population making that trek had fallen to an estimated 30 million, although that number has rebounded slightly in the last few years. Creighton University Entomologist Dr. Theodore Burk has been studying the butterfly for nearly 20 years. He says it’s truly a unique species.

“The monarch has an absolutely unique biology,” said Burk. “It’s the only species of insect that makes this kind of migration. They’re beautiful; everybody grew up in school raising monarch caterpillars. They are a tremendous poster child.”

  Monarch’s primary food source is milkweed, which typically grows in the Corn Belt. In addition to food, monarchs use milkweed as a place to lay eggs. One of the reasons for a decline in the population has been an increase in pesticide and insecticides that reduce milkweed plants. Burk says education is key to re-establishing milkweed.

“Something over half of all the food base of monarchs has been eliminated just because of this change in American agricultural,” said Burk. “A lot of the efforts that people have been engaged in during the last few years has been to plant more milkweed.”

While on their migration, monarchs also rely on thistle flowers to get them through until Mexico. Burk says some species of thistle are required to be removed by law because they are a noxious weed, further decreasing food for the monarch.

  “Where I study the monarchs on the prairies, I have records of about 1,500 flower visits by monarchs to flowers and more than half of them are to one particular species of tall thistle,” says Burk. “In our part of the world — at least the few hundred miles that they pass through here — that is a really key resource to help get them to Mexico.”

Burk has been studying the butterfly since 1998. He spends 20 weeks each year at Glacier Creek Preserve northwest of Omaha studying and documenting monarchs and their plant preferences


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