Monarchs on Kiawah

The Kiawah Island Garden Club had a wonderful meeting in October, learning all about Monarch butterflies from John W. (Billy) McCord, who worked for the Department of Natural Resources for 30 years. After he retired he began to work for them “part time” in 2010 and now spends many, many hours each week locating Monarchs, tagging  and releasing them, then recording where they are next spotted.  He mainly works on Folly Beach but also all around the area.  He believes that many Monarchs which pass up and down the Eastern seaboard stay in our area or go no further south than Florida and Cuba.  Western Monarchs winter in Monterey, CA and those from the Midwest and north, fly to Mexico.  Mr. McCord asks people not to release butterflies at weddings, as they are usually Western and can spread diseases and mismatched genes with local butterflies.

A Monarch egg grows into a caterpillar in 3-4 days, which then lives 14 days before forming a chrysalis for 10 days and emerging as a butterfly.  Monarchs can live 4-8 months if they winter over here, but usually it’s much shorter and you will see the great-grandchildren of this year’s butterflies in just one year.  They fly north to breed.  As the days shorten they begin to convert sugar to fat so they can cling to trees to “sleep” and survive cold temperatures. 

There has been a 62% decline of Monarchs in the past 10 years as ethanol has caused the conversion of 24 million acres of grasslands to corn.  Crops have been modified so they are not tilled under and milkweed and wildflowers have been killed off.  In our area Red Bay has been killed by Laurel Wilt and Groundsell trees, which grow at the edge of marshes, have been cut down to improve human views.  They are both favorite roosts for Monarchs.  There are many plants we can use to feed Monarchs:  in the Fall Seaside Goldenrod, Dune Camphorweed, Spotted Beebalm and Beach Blanket flower (Firewheel).  In the Winter they feed on Dandelion, Henbit and Sow-thistle flower.  Also Lantana (not white!), Viburnum, Loquat, Bottlebrush and annuals like Cosmos, old-style open face zinnias, and Mexican Sunflower.  Gulf Coast Swallow-wort is a source of nectar in August and a host plant for the caterpillars in September.  Pinewoods and Aquatic milkweed may grown here, and Tropical milkweed (Bloodflower) is great but may be invasive and must be pruned to the ground around Halloween so the female will not be confused by the winter growth and lay eggs out of season. 

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