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Monarch butterfly flies closer toward its extinction

The monarch butterfly is well known and easily identifiable visitor to our area in mid-summer to early fall. It is orange with black veins and wing borders. The borders have two rows of white spots.

The males have two scent glands seen on the center of the hindwing making it easy to determine female or male.

The monarch population has had a drastic decline of approximately 90 percent over the past 20 years. For this reason, it is now a candidate for listing under the Endangered Species Act.

There are several reasons for the decline of the monarch butterfly. monarchs overwinter in Mexico in the oyamel fir forests. This habitat has greatly decreased due to logging of the forests.

Changing weather patterns such as unexpected freezing temperatures and storms can kill overwintering and migrating butterflies. Butterflies are cold-blooded and need warm conditions to fly.

Another major factor in decline is the reduction of milkweed. Milkweed is essentially gone from agricultural fields where it was once plentiful. This is due to the highly effective herbicides that are currently being used.

The monarch’s life cycle is called a complete metamorphosis. The adult female deposits a single creamy white egg on the underside of a milkweed leaf. In one to five days, a tiny caterpillar emerges from the egg.

Over the following nine to 16 days the caterpillar goes through five instars (shedding of skin) to become a bigger animal each time.

After the fifth instar, the caterpillar begins its search for a resting place to go into the chrysalis form. Upon finding its resting spot, it weaves a silk button and hangs in the form of the letter “J.”

After a day or two it sheds its skin and forms the chrysalis. The chrysalis starts out green and over the next 10 to 14 days, as the caterpillar transforms, the chrysalis becomes clear, and the wings of the butterfly can be seen.

When the chrysalis is mostly black, the butterfly will soon emerge. Upon emergence, the butterfly cannot fly and needs several hours for its wings to dry and harden.

It takes the monarch four generations to complete migration north. Generations 1 and 2 head north, mating, laying eggs and dying along the way. They generally only live four to six weeks.

The summer monarchs we see are generation 3. Some breed here, and some head across Lake Erie into Canada. In the fall, we see generation 4.

This group delays breeding to save energy for the migration south. Generation 4 can live up to eight months.

If you would like to help monarchs, the Mahoning County Extension office has bags of 50 milkweed seeds with growing instructions for a suggested donation of $2. The office is located at 490 S. Broad St., Canfield.

For questions, please call 330-533-5538.

You can read more about milkweed at http://go.osu.edu/milkweedseeds.

Shively is an Ohio Sate University Mahoning County Extension Master Gardener volunteer.

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