Is Monarch-mania Coming?

13 09 2010

Two Monarchs nectaring on butterfly bush; Reed's Beach, Cape May County, NJ. Photo by Tom Reed.

Maybe you’ve noticed them recently- Monarchs, those large orange butterflies with black trim, the storied insect that makes its epic trek southward through North America each autumn. This autumn may be an especially good one for the species here in Jersey, based on what we’ve seen so far. In fact, Don Freiday (Director of Birding Programs for NJ Audubon’s Cape May Bird Observatory) reported 100s of Monarchs along the Red Trail at Cape May Point State Park this morning, and a short stroll through my backyard in northern Cape May County just revealed over a dozen of the critters. Cape May routinely sees the highest numbers of migrating Monarchs in the region- this isn’t surprising, given its geography as a southward-facing peninsula, and its resulting ability to trap southbound winged migrants at land’s end.

Monarchs have three to four broods each year, and the last brood, which emerges in late summer and early fall, is the one that engages in long migratory trips, living eight to nine months. Many of the Monarchs we are seeing now are (hopefully) destined to reach wintering grounds in Mexico, where they hibernate until spring. They then move north again, reproducing and ensuring that next year’s cycle of Monarchs will continue.

Here in New Jersey, Monarch migration typically peaks toward the end of September and beginning of October, and like bird migration, is more obvious and much heavier in magnitude after the passage of a cold front. It isn’t entirely clear why numbers fluctuate from year to year, though varying weather conditions likely play a large role.

The Cape May Bird Observatory runs a Monarch monitoring and tagging program each fall, information about which can be found HERE . Part of this program includes weekly banding demonstrations that take place at Cape May Point State Park, and are definitely worth attending!

Even if you can’t make it to Cape May, keep your eyes peeled for the big orange butterfly, for this may be a Monarch Autumn we won’t soon forget.

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