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Home » Archives » August 2017 » Help Map Monarchs & Milkweed

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08/04/2017: "Help Map Monarchs & Milkweed"

ig_A_Monarch-001 (122k image)

WDFW (Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife) is asking for help to learn more about one of Washington's wildlife species of greatest conservation need and the plant it depends on for survival: The Monarch butterfly and the milkweed plant that it eats. The public can help by planting milkweed, and also by helping to map both the Monarch and the milkweed.

he once-common Monarch butterfly is in decline in the west, based on dropping numbers at overwintering sites in coastal California. In the eastern U.S., a decline in the Monarch caterpillar's main food plant - milkweed - is considered the most significant reason for the decline in that flyway's wintering populations in central Mexico.

WDFW needS to find out more details about western breeding locations to effectively plan Monarch conservation and restoration work on the ground. So they have teamed up with the non-profit Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, Idaho Department of Fish and Game, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to collect information from citizen scientists like you.

The Western Monarch Milkweed Mapper project is a collaborative effort to map and better understand monarch butterflies and their host plants across the west. Data compiled through this project will improve an understanding of the distribution and life cycle of monarchs and milkweeds, identify important breeding areas, and help better understand monarch conservation needs. Some of the key research questions that these data will help answer include:

• Where are different milkweed species growing in the West?
• Where are monarchs occurring in the West?
• Where are monarchs breeding in the West?
• When is milkweed emerging and senescing (dying back) in the West?
• How does milkweed phenology (life cycle) differ by species?
• When is monarch breeding occurring in specific areas/regions of the West?
• What types of habitats are different milkweed species associated with?

You can participate in this effort by using the project website at to submit observation reports and photos of monarchs and/or milkweed plants.

The site helps you identify milkweed using a key that profiles over 40 milkweed species found in the west. It also provides detailed information about monarchs and how they use milkweed in their life cycle.

Milkweed gets its name from its milky sap that contains latex, alkaloids and cardiac glycosides, which make them unpalatable and even toxic to most animals. The U.S. Department of Agriculture says livestock only eat milkweed when nothing else is available, so well-managed grazing areas shouldn't require milkweed eradication.

The cardiac glycoside in milkweed makes monarch caterpillar or larvae flesh distasteful to most predators like birds. Milkweed is the only type of plant on which Monarchs lay eggs and upon which the larvae will feed and mature into a chrysalis.

When you see milkweed to report, be sure to check the underside of young, healthy leaves for Monarch eggs or larvae. We're looking for all stages of Monarchs in all kinds of places across the state. Check your local parks, natural areas, gardens, and even roadsides.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) designated the Monarch butterfly as a species of greatest conservation need in the 10-year Washington State Wildlife Action Plan developed in 2015. The plan is part of the federal State and Tribal Wildlife Grants Program that Congress created in 2000 to help fund efforts to manage non-game species.

Data compiled through the Western Monarch Milkweed Mapper is helping to address critical knowledge gaps on western monarch distribution, relative abundance, and habitat use. The project is also improving data exchange and networking among decision makers, land managers, researchers, and stakeholders to support landscape-scale conservation of monarch butterflies and other pollinator species.

John Evans
Greg Hertel
Mary Kalbert
Ron Keeshan
Gordy Petersen
Janice Peterson
Bruce Sallan
Teresa Smith
Terra Tamai
Amy Wynn
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