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Nature center helps Monarchs

  • A Monarch caterpillar munches on a milkweed leaf at the Nature Discovery Center. Courtesy


Monday, September 10, 2018

Once plentiful in New Hampshire, the beautiful orange and black Monarch butterfly is now endangered and rarely seen. In the caterpillar stage, Monarchs eat only milkweed leaves, and nationwide, the number of milkweed plants has been greatly reduced due to farmers spraying herbicides on their fields.

“Three years ago, one of our volunteers grew milkweed from seed and planted a patch of it here next to the Nature Center,” director Sandra Martin said. “We wanted to do what we could to help save the butterflies.”

The plants grew and multiplied until, finally, this year, the first ones blossomed, but all summer there didn’t appear to be any activity in the milkweed garden.

“When I arrived at the Nature Center the other day, I saw four Monarch caterpillars on one plant,” Martin said. “I have never seen that many on one plant before, and it was exciting!”

Most Monarch butterflies are now migrating South in flocks, so these caterpillars may not develop into butterflies soon enough to fly South before a freeze kills them.

“The caterpillars must make a chrysalis, then spend about ten days in that before they emerge as butterflies, and we hope they survive that long,” Martin said.

Monarch butterflies travel some 3,000 miles to spend the winter in Mexico. About March, they begin their northern migration, traveling to the southern United States where they lay eggs and die. After about four days, the eggs hatch into caterpillars, which grow for about two weeks. They then spend about 10 days in the chrysalis before emerging as butterflies, when the migration continues.

The butterflies that finally arrive in New Hampshire in June or July are usually the second or third generation of the year. Depending on our temperatures during the summer, two or three more generations may develop here. The last generation of the season has a much longer lifespan. They are the ones that migrate to Mexico, spend the winter hibernating, then begin the journey North.

The Nature Discovery Center will be open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays until the end of October, but anyone is welcome to visit the pollinator garden anytime. More information about the center may be found at ndcnh.org.