The Historic Importance of the Prairie Ecosystem to Monarchs
And the Midwestern prairie ecosystem was their historic center of breeding, notes Dr. Lincoln Brower. The original prairie covered some 433 million acres and was host to a great diversity of milkweed--about 22 Asclepias (milkweed) species. Ironically, monarchs were probably never very abundant to the east of the prairie, believes Brower. However, plowing of the prairies, together with clearing of the eastern forests, promoted the growth of the common milkweed, Asclepias syriaca, and probably extended the center of the breeding eastward.
A Field Trip to the Prairie with Dr. Lincoln Brower
"I've only been in a prairie situation like this when monarchs were migrating twice in my life and it's so beautiful to see these absolutely mint condition butterflies. They've just hatched out, they're probably 2-3 days old. Their wings are actually almost shining in their brilliance. And I always say to myself, what a beautiful animal this is. I've been studying them now since 1955, that's what, 46 years? And, you know you might think somebody that has studied the same thing for 46 years would be sick of it, but I just never get sick of these creatures. They're just so elegant and beautiful!"
"If you try to catch a butterfly between your thumb and forefinger in the summertime you'll have a very, very hard time catching it. But they are so intently nectaring [during migration] that you can actually, if you're really careful, sneak up with your thumb and forefinger and just grab one and then take it in your hand and gently look at it and see whether it's a male or female.
can look--if they've had a good feed their stomachs will actually be fat.
(See photo.) They feed on that [nectar], and the nectar has sugar in it.
They convert that sugar into fat and that fat is the energy store that
they use to fly down to Texas and then on into Mexico. (That sure beats
$2 per gallon gasoline.) Ha, ha, ha...It sure does!"
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