Last week, Journey North, an organization that monitors migrational species and phenological changes posted that several citizen scientists had reported Monarch Butterflies in Wisconsin! Already?! Really?!
My milkweed is not even up! This is the very reason I am suspicious of these reports.
None of the observers made the report with a photo, but some did say they checked their milkweed patch after seeing the monarch. Their account went on to explain that indeed their milkweed had germinated!
So, I did some backtracking of my own records – I know I have not seen monarchs this early (the first week in May) in the part of Wisconsin where I live. Below is a screen capture of my sighting dating back to 2006. Was there a sighting the first week in May? Nope.
This is all very memorable to be because for the last 15 years I have worked with school children during the month of May preparing and planting their school gardens. I have also been an active Monarch Conservationist during that entire time. I would have remembered a Monarch in early May.
Maybe, just maybe, the citizen scientists downstate from me, near Milwaukee as one person reported, did see a monarch. The Great Lakes do provide a micro-climate near their shores, there are heavier winds, and it might – in fact – be warmer near that huge insulating body of water.
But, wait – warm enough for Monarchs to be flying around? Maybe – if it was above 65 degrees. We did have some warm days last week. Maybe, there were warmer days last week downstate as well.
Okay, maybe some lucky people did see Monarchs last week in Wisconsin.
But, wait! Is the milkweed up? In order for monarchs to survive, they need milkweed. Most people know that now. Ten or fifteen years ago, most people did not know that fact.
Mother nature has a great way of providing sustenance for all the critters and creatures. Usually, virtually during every spring that passes, the milkweed has germinated from the ground BEFORE the monarchs arrive. You see, it is supposed to be that way. Monarchs Butterflies lay their eggs on milkweed leaves. This is to ensure that the caterpillars that emerge from the eggs have a ready source of food.
Monarch caterpillars are tiny when they come out of their eggshell. I was lucky enough to record this a few years ago. As they say, timing is everything! After eating their high protein eggshell, they proceed to eat the milkweed leaf on which they find themselves. Here, have a look:
After I read the Journey North sightings report last week, I looked around my yard to see if my milkweed had germinated yet. Nope. I have three patches in my yard of three different types of milkweed. None of them have sprouted. But, according to my own records, I should expect it to show itself any time now.
Citizen Science is fun. It allows a “normal” citizen to track species of interest and turn in the data to the “real” scientists. This helps scientists to discover patterns in nature, migration, and predict phenological timing. With our climate changing, these predictions might be more and more important. If, in fact, monarchs were seen in Wisconsin last week, it would be a little early, according to my own records. However, the sightings I read about were much further south than were I live, and perhaps it was “time” for this beloved icon to return to Wisconsin.
As for me, I’ll keep my eyes open. First to the ground where I expect the milkweed to be and then to the skies for a bright spot of orange and black to flit by on one of the bright and sunny days we are sure to have soon!