Magical Beauty of the Monarch Butterfly

Dickinson County Conservation Board Hosts Bee and Butterfly Festival September 6th.

There is something absolutely magical about the Monarch Butterfly.

Their indescribable beauty fills the air like orange clouds of fluttering confetti. They flicker through the air, some big and some small. They add moments of color to flowers, gathering and distributing nectar, and are born on a milkweed.

These beautiful butterflies are native to Iowa and generally live about six weeks. It takes four to six generations of Monarchs to make the trip north and the last generation then migrates south to Mexico. This last butterfly has been created biologically different and won’t reproduce until the following spring, allowing the final generation to live about six months.

“Monarch butterflies are a beautiful pollinator and act as a poster child for pollinators in general,” said Kiley Roth, Community Relations Coordinator for the Dickinson County Conservation Board.

The butterfly will lay their eggs on the milkweed, whether it is a common milkweed, butterfly milkweed, swamp milkweed, whorled milkweed or another native species, and their caterpillars only eat milkweed.

“A Monarch butterfly’s favorite place is a milkweed – the only host species for the butterfly,” Roth explained.

As the Monarch starts off as an egg, it begins to feed on the milkweed’s leaves. Once ingested, the milky juice of the plant makes the caterpillars and the adult butterflies distasteful to birds and other predators.

After the egg has hatched into a caterpillar, it grows 1,800 times larger and develops into a chrysalis. Lastly, it will hatch into an adult, reproduce and the cycle starts once again.

“Our butterfly enclosure in Pollinator Paradise at the Dickinson County Nature Center allows people to see the butterfly life cycle from start to finish, and we release adult butterflies that hatch throughout the summer,” Roth said. “We bring the milkweed leaves into the butterfly enclosure to feed the Monarchs throughout their life cycle.”

At the Dickinson County Nature Center, they are in the process of building a new butterfly enclosure as a part of new exhibits in the Pollinator Paradise.

“When we make a difference in our environment and create a habitat to help Monarchs, we’re also creating a habitat that is important to other butterflies, bees, beetles and other wildlife in general,” Roth added.

Bee and Butterfly Festival Held Every Summer

Every fall, millions of Monarch butterflies head to Mexico to wait out the cold weather, travelling thousands of miles with little effort. In correlation with this travel period, the Dickinson County Conservation Board hosts their annual Bee and Butterfly Festival on the grounds of the Dickinson County Nature Center.

“The Monarch Butterfly Festival began over ten years ago and was expanded into the Bee & Butterfly Festival five years ago,” Roth said. “It is the Dickinson County Conservation Board’s largest event of the year, and in 2018, drew in over 900 participants.”

The festival was inspired by Delores Maser and her love of butterflies, which also led to the creation of the original Butterfly House at Kenue Park.

“She has been an integral part of maintaining the festival ever since our first event,” said Roth. “It is a tradition that has blossomed and expanded through the years, and we’re excited to celebrate all kinds of pollinators during the festival each year.”

Every butterfly celebration, children and families are able to tag a Monarch butterfly and release it into the open air. They receive a paper with the tagged number on it, and in correlation with the University of Kansas Monarch Watch program, the family can follow the butterfly through its mitigation south.

These butterflies will then overwinter in Mexico and find their way north to the Texas-Mexico border the following spring to reproduce.

Volunteers then collect the deceased first generation of monarchs and record tag numbers to see which butterflies made it to Mexico and where they originated from.

“We believe the Bee and Butterfly Festival is important to foster an appreciation of the natural world in children and adults,” Roth said. “By getting to see a Monarch butterfly up close, people will make a fun memory and come to love and appreciate these creatures. That appreciation leads to change and advocacy.”