Lynn Barber, Hillsborough County Extension

In Florida, we have more than 180 butterfly species that include 170 native/newly established species. We have the highest number of butterflies east of the Mississippi River, which means Florida is a perfect spot for butterfly gardening. Butterflies are important because they are pollinators and provide natural pest control. My bucket list has included the migration of Monarch butterflies and I have successfully checked that “to do” off my list.

I vacationed in Mexico to view the Monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) prior to their leaving two mountain sites for the United States and Canada. The first Monarch site we visited was El Rosario, located in the state of Michoacan, in the mountains near Angangueo, approximately 100 miles west of Mexico City. El Rosario is the most easily accessible Monarch viewing site. This overwintering site generally has more than 100 million adult Monarchs and this year, we were told there were 150 million at this site. There have been several recent media articles about the plight of the Monarch butterflies and the best news is that it appears there has been a reverse in their decline. We witnessed one burst of butterflies leaving a cluster which was truly amazing. The Monarchs were landing on us and on the ground, which at this site was pretty flat. We could hear the movement of their wings, like leaves rustling in trees.

The second adventure was to Sierra Chincua, 10,000 ft. elevation, and a more isolated site. Frost was on the ground as we started our trek up the mountain. This was more physically challenging because the viewing area was at a significant slope. There were 130 million Monarchs at this site. All viewing areas are roped off so the general public must remain in specific areas and there are volunteers making sure this happens. This Monarch experience surpassed my expectations.

My next article will cover threats to Monarch butterflies, what they need to survive and what we can do to make a difference by encouraging their presence in our landscapes.