Bedeque Bay Environmental Management Association partnered with the P.E.I. Preserve Company to build a monarch house to raise these regal butterflies for the annual Wings of Hope tag and release campaign
© GUARDIAN PHOTO BY MARY MACKAY
BBEMA staffers Madeleine Crowell, left, and Tracy Brown tag monarchs in the newly built monarch house on the grounds of the P.E.I. Preserve Company in New Glasgow. These butterflies were released and will join the massive annual migration to Mexico.
Hand-tossed goodbye-butterfly kisses abound when monarchs are released into the wild for the Bedeque Bay Environmental Management Association (BBEMA) Wings of Hope campaign.
And this year there will be even more touching moments for this annual butterfly tagging program, through which people can release tagged monarch butterflies into the wild as a symbolic and personal way to honour a loved one or celebrate a special relationship or life-changing event.
That’s because 200 of the regal butterflies are being raised like royalty in BBEMA’s new monarch house on the Gardens of Hope grounds of the P.E.I. Preserve Company in New Glasgow.
“Building our own butterfly house lets us maintain our own numbers and lets us increase the number we can put in (to the annual fall migration stream),” says Tracy Brown, executive director of BBEMA.
The monarch butterfly has a three-generation cycle. The first two generations only live 10 to 14 days; the third generation lives six months and it is the generation that migrates from North America to two specific reserves in Mexico where they will hibernate until about March.
At that time they will breed, lay their eggs and then die.
Local people in Mexico are paid $7 for each tagged monarch that they take to the science station, where the individually coded tags are scanned in and added to the international database.
“On the way back (to North America the monarchs) breed as they come up the coast, but by the time they get to here it’s a couple of generations in,” Brown says.
“So the butterflies that come to Canada have never been to Canada or P.E.I. And the ones that leave P.E.I. and go to Mexico have never been to Mexico. It’s just ingrained in their genetic DNA. Mother Nature does amazing things.”
In its first year BBEMA’s Wings of Hope campaign tagged and released 30 monarchs.
That number will reach 200 this year, the majority of which are being raised from the chrysalis stage onward at the new monarch house, which was built by the P.E.I. Preserve Company for the project.
The structure, which is a walk-through lean-to attached to an existing barn, has been landscaped inside the screened in areas with plant species on which monarchs feed.
The monarch butterflies and chrysalises are shipped in from Ontario, the latter of which are raised in the monarch house for release, which must be done by mid-September so they can join the annual migration stream.
“The monarchs are neat because even though they’re captive-raised, the migration is so massive because so many of them migrate at once . . . . Even though you are releasing a captive-bred, they will move into that large stream of butterflies and will actually migrate with them so we will still get the data,” Brown says.
Milkweed will also be added this fall to the in-house landscape so BBEMA will actually be raising monarch caterpillars in the future as well.
“So we will eventually have all three stages (of monarchs) here,” Brown says.
There are numerous upcoming releases, including at Wedgewood and Summerset Manors in Summerside, as well as a couple at the P.E.I. Preserve Company site.
“Last week at Old Home Week we had a girl come in and she had bought one in memory of her brother who had died . . . , and when she actually released it, it wouldn’t fly away . . . . It was almost 10 minutes before it flew away. So she said it was just magical,” Brown says.
“People benefit because they get kind of an emotional response of letting them go. It’s a beautiful sight to see a butterfly leave and take off. And then the actual idea that they are helping to hopefully save the species and what they’re releasing is a memory to them but it’s also a scientific specimen that is actually going to be used to track where the species go to and how they get to Mexico.”
The monarch is now considered a species at risk.
“People say there are tons and tons of monarchs, it’s not the monarch itself, it’s actually the lifecycle and the migration that are at risk. Even though the butterfly can live and breed on all types of flowers, the caterpillars can only feed on milkweed and their eggs can only be laid on milkweed,” Brown says.
“Milkweed right now has been reclassified as a noxious weed in the United States and some provinces in Canada, which means that farmers can eradicate it totally from the landscape in order to put their crops in. And once you take out the milkweed you take out the food for the caterpillars so you’re taking two whole stages — the eggs and the caterpillars — so basically you’re killing the whole species eventually because they can’t repopulate.”
The Wings of Hope tag and release campaign hopes to track the migration track of monarchs from P.E.I. to Mexico so partnerships with landowners can be formed to protect those routes or to put the native wildflower and shrub habitat back in the landscape.
“We’re working with people to put way stations in because monarchs themselves as they go from P.E.I. all the way to Mexico they have to fly, feed, fly, feed, fly, feed. So we need to work with people who are planting gardens that are going to provide the nectar sources that monarchs are going to be wanting. Those are going to be certain plants within certain colour spectrums — yellow, orange and pink . . . ,” Brown says,
“So all the proceeds from the Wings of Hope campaign go to working with landowners — and it all stays on P.E.I. — buying special flowers, accessing the landscapes and going back in and restoring the landscapes for monarchs and all pollinators. Because if you’re going to restore for one butterfly, you may as well do them all.”
AT A GLANCE
Give the gift of nature: $25 for one monarch or $50 for three. Order and register your monarch by calling BBEMA at 886-3211 or purchase online through the BBEMA website at http://bbemadotnet.wordpress.com/.
All funds received will go towards protecting monarch and butterfly habitats across Prince Edward Island.
Wings of Hope tag and release dates are as follows: Aug. 22, 10 a.m. at Wedgewood Manor, Summerside; Aug. 23, 2 p.m. at P.E.I. Preserve Company, New Glasgow; Aug. 31, 2 p.m. at P.E.I. Preserve Company, New Glasgow; Sept. 6, 2 p.m. at P.E.I. Preserve Company, New Glasgow; Sept. 13, 2 p.m. at P.E.I. Preserve Company, New Glasgow; Sept. 20 at Sommerset Manor, Summerside.