Celebrating the monarch
Monarch butterflies to be released at Flutter Fest at zoo Saturday
Visitors to Rooselt Park Zoo in Minot on Saturday, Aug. 28, will have the opportunity to take part in Flutter Fest, an event celebrating the monarch butterfly, from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. A release of monarchs will be at 1 p.m.
“We’ll be releasing over 150 butterflies,” said Dr. Logan Wood, zoo veterinarian. The monarchs are a special project for Wood.
The butterflies were raised locally at the Bison Plant (Minot Park District property) near Minot, at Wood’s home and by other individuals.
Lowe’s Garden Center and the Minot Park District Horticulture Department will be discussing plants native to this area and to promoting pollinators, not only honey bees and bumblebees and monarch butterflies but different pollinators that people don’t necessarily think of such as hummingbirds and bats, Wood said. A local beekeeper, Stradinger Apiaries of Mercer, will also take part in the discussion.
“Flight of the Butterflies,” a 45-minute documentary film, will be presented in the auditorium in the zoo’s Visitors Center. The documentary is about Fred Urquhart, a Canadian zoologist and his 40-year scientific investigation into the monarch butterfly and tracking the details of one of the longest known insect migrations from Mexico to the U.S. and Canada and back. There is no extra charge to view the documentary.
Wood said the first Flutter Fest was held at the zoo in 2019 when about 50 monarch butterflies were released.
“This year we’re going to be releasing about 150 that are tagged. Hopefully, each year we can release more and more so we can help this species and help the scientists track their migration, track their survival rates and so forth,” he said.
Zoo staff will be assisting Wood with the release of the monarchs on Saturday. The event will also be a fundraiser to help promote the zoo’s conservation program. Four people who have gifted $5 toward a drawing will be selected to also release a box of 12 monarchs.
Wood said there is a tag or tiny sticker on each monarch being released. “It’s very lightweight and it doesn’t affect the way that they can fly. It’s similar to putting a leg band on a duck,” he said. “We then submit all our information to an overall data base called Monarch Watch.”
He said the tag on each butterfly “allows us to determine what is their migration route and then we can map it to further identify their migration routes, how long are they living and so forth.”
He said the monarchs released at the zoo will migrate to southern Mexico.
Wood and Shannon Paul, Minot Park District horticulturist and the Horticulture Department have been working on establishing Monarch Waystations in other areas besides the zoo.
“The point of the Monarch Waystation is it provides milkweed for the caterpillars to live off and it provides a nectar source which is what the butterflies need as they migrate. As they migrate they need to be able to feed on high nectar sources. By having these different waystations throughout the United States and throughout North Dakota, we can promote the whole life cycle and hopefully allow them to migrate through North America,” Wood said.
The Bison Plant, east of Minot, has been established as a Monarch Waystation. “That’s 5 million square feet of protective monarch habitat,” Wood said. He said no pesticides or insecticides are used there. Signage for it has not been placed yet.
“Hopefully by the end of the year and if Flutter Fest is a success, we’ll be able to establish over 10 Monarch Waystations throughout the park district,” Wood said.
The monarch butterfly is important, according to Wood.
“Monarchs to me are one of those amazing animals that one, migrate but two, can show you have a healthy ecosystem – you have healthy plants and everything else. To me that’s why I would say monarchs are important,” he said.
The monarchs were going to be put on the endangered species list “because the most recent figures as of 2021 show that it has an 80% decrease in overall population in the last 20 years,” he said.
However, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced this past December that listing the monarch is warranted, but precluded by higher priority listing actions. The monarch is now a candidate under the Endangered Species Act and USFWS will review its status annually until a listing decision is made.
Wood said the biggest threats to the monarchs are herbicide and insecticide use but for the eastern monarch (those east of the Rocky Mountains) it’s habitat loss. “People are pulling milkweed because they think it’s a weed because it has weed in the name,” he said.
Milkweed is the main source of food for the monarch caterpillars.
For those interested in starting their own monarch waystation, milkweed seeds (ie.common milkweed, rose swamp milkweed) can be purchased or obtained from milkweed plants when the pods are opening.
Flowers that Wood and Paul recommend include blue salvia (perennial or annual), purple coneflower (echinacea purpurea) which bloom in September or October.
“Most sunflowers also attract monarchs and other pollinators including common sunflower (helianthus annus), maximilian sunflowers (helianthus maximilliani), stiff sunflowers (helianthus pauciflorus) and false sunflowers (heliopsis helianthoides),” Wood said.
He said he has also seen many monarchs and hummingbirds feeding on the purple flowers by the warthogs in the zoo which are Buenos Aries verbena, although it is not native.
He said the main thing is having pollinator plants specifically for the northern/Midwest region.
Wood said he would like to expand the monarch program every year, noting it is a program good for conservation.
An opportunity to release monarchs
For every $5 gifted, an individual will be entered into a drawing to be one of four people to open a box to release a dozen monarch butterflies.
Gifting can be done going to the Roosevelt Park Zoo Facebook page.
Those selected will be contacted on Friday, Aug. 27, to secure their spot in the monarch release on Saturday, Aug. 28, at 1 p.m. at the zoo.
The entry will carry over to the day of Flutter Fest when the winners of four more #PollenNation prizes will be announced. The prizes include a quilt with butterfly design and three pollinator take-home projects.
All proceeds will go toward the Roosevelt Park Zoo Change 4 Change Conservation Fund.