Rear them right

Photo credit to members Mark and Janna from Marion.
Monarch butterflies are back in Iowa and our members are HAPPY to return to their routine of finding eggs and raising caterpillars into mature monarch butterflies. Many members have also increased their plantings of milkweed and native pollinator plants and are happy to start seeing the blooms.

Now is a good time to review the "best practices" for raising monarchs to be healthy and strong.

(Copied from a previous post quoting Monarch Watch.)

The migration to Mexico is a strong selective force.
It eliminates the weak ... those with diseases ... the undersized ,,, and those with genetic and other deficiencies.

It also eliminates those that have not received the environmental cues that properly trigger diapause and the orientation and directional flight characteristics of the migration.


1. Rear larvae under the most natural conditions possible.
"In other words, rearing outdoors, on porches, in pole barns, open garages, etc., would likely produce better results than rearing in an air–conditioned kitchen, spare bedroom or similar space."

2. Provide an abundance of living or fresh–picked and sanitized foliage to larvae.  ..."raising the monarchs on living plants–potted or in the ground–is likely to produce the largest monarchs, provided that the monarch larvae have an abundance of foliage to feed on at all times. Cut foliage in the form of leaves also works well, but the leaves have to be fresh and abundant relative to the numbers of larvae in each container."

3. Provide clean rearing conditions.
 ... Containers should be cleaned each day once the larvae reach the 4th instar.
 ... Foliage should be sanitized.

"To avoid passing the monarch disease Ophryocystis elektroscirrha (O.e. or OE) from outdoor monarchs to reared monarchs, both the living and cut foliage can be sanitized using a 10% bleach solution with a drop or two of liquid soap added. After soaking in the bleach solution for two minutes, the leaves should be rinsed thoroughly with clean water and patted dry before being fed to larvae."

"Living plants can be sprayed with the bleach solution and then rinsed. If you are using cut stems with leaves intact, they can be cleaned the same way. In that case, be sure to cut the stems under warm water before placing them in vases, etc. The warm water keeps the latex vesicles from closing down the transport of water to the leaves. Cut stems work to feed larvae, but they can go limp and be less suitable as a food source than cut leaves."

4. Plan the rearing so that the newly–emerged monarchs can be tagged early in the migratory season (10 days before to 10 days after the expected date of arrival of the leading edge of the migration in your area. [MEI NOTE: The leading edge in Iowa is around September 8th, so that would mean tagging August 30 through September 18th.]

5. Tag the butterflies once the wings have hardened and release them the day after emergence if possible.

Also, read and learn about "Monarch Annual Cycle: Migrations and the number of generations", a blog post from Chip Taylor of Monarch Watch.


Linn County, Iowa - A place for pollinators

We who live in Linn County, Iowa are fortunate that we have a progressive program to develop pollinator habitat for monarchs and pollinators!  Please follow the below links to learn more!

From:  http://www.linncounty.org/1345/1000-Acres-Pollinator-Initiative
"The 1,000 Acres Pollinator Initiative is a public/private partnership in which Linn County Conservation, has partnered with the Monarch Research Project (MRP), Cedar Rapids Parks and Recreation, and the Marion Parks Department. This collaborative effort aims to restore 1,000 public land acres to a diverse native prairie habitat (Pollinator Zones) within five years through private funding. This primary goal is to restore significant monarch and pollinator habitat throughout the communities of Linn County, Iowa through a collaborative public/private partnership that engages governmental, business, educational, non-profit, and citizen sectors of the community."

  ..... In the first three years of the initiative (2017-2019), 802 of the 1,000 acres have been installed with a funding level of about $630,000 provided primarily by the Monarch Research Project through private donations and grants on over 400 acres on Linn County Conservation managed areas"

The Linn County 1,000 Acres Pollinator Initiative is a recipient of the 2019 Iowa State Association of Counties (ISAC) Excellence in Action Award, a competitive awards program that seeks to recognize innovative county government employees, programs, and projects. The awards were presented during a ceremony at the ISAC Annual Conference in Des Moines on August 21, 2019.

Also read about a 6.6 acre Orlan Love Prairie at Squaw Creek Park
“Orlan’s stories are credited with raising public awareness of the need to protect natural resources in Eastern Iowa and beyond the state’s borders,” the sign installed at the prairie reads, in part. “This prairie is a living tribute to a much-loved writer and conservationist.” From Homegrown Iowan


Roosts in Iowa!

September 9, 2019 - The Journey North Monarch Roosts map is reporting roosts in or near the towns of Pleasant Hill, Rhodes, Dysart, Walcott and Manchester, IA. We are nearing mid-September "peak migration" for monarchs through Iowa!

If you see a roost, be sure to report it!  https://maps.journeynorth.org/map/?year=2019&map=monarch-roost-fall

Members from our group reporting roosts:

Cammie (near Whittier, IA) reports - Monarchs have been roosting overnight in my yard every night since September 1. Slightly surprised since last year I didn’t notice roosting until about mid month. Wednesday morning located approximately 93 with around 50 in one tree. This morning found about 45. I like to start stalking them around 6:30 and they typically will have trees picked out and settling down by about 7:30. Some will still come in around dark. Wind direction is a key in determining the chosen spot. AND -  Located approximately 100 this morning, Sunday September 8

September 8
Beverly from near Marengo
, Sept. 8th - I finally have a roost in my maple and mulberry trees. It was like walking in a dream. Hard to put a count on them. My tree was covered. Maybe a 750. The migrators are here!

September 11
Cheryl (northeast of Belle Plaine) saw a roost of 200 to 300
Julie in Davenport witnessed a small roost

Sept 12
Brenda, from Sutherland, had about 50 roosting
Kim, from Newton, 50+ monarchs - In all these years I’ve never seen Monarchs roosting! Today I did! Right across the street from my house. What an incredible experience.

Sept 13
Gwen in Deep River observed about 70
Linda, near West Branch saw a sizeable roost - Such a miraculous sight!

Sept 14
Renae, from Dunkerton - My back yard is full of monarchs!

Sept 15
Cheryl in Belle Plaine - Roost #2 this year for me! 6 pm 9/15/19 (in the middle of town)! These were everywhere! Was mowing late afternoon and noticed them flying around out back in the wooded area. They were not in huge groups but there were LOTS of groups of 4-30 in a group! They were even on the tall weeds! Guessing around 500!!! Every where I walked, Monarchs would fly! LOVE THIS!!!!

Jim from the Monona Butterfly Garden, Monona, IA - Monarchs have been roosting in and around Monona this week. Last night a roost of 650 was observed in the Monona Butterfly Garden. Tonight, we went down to count monarchs and found none. We saw only 3 monarchs all day. This may indicate the migration has moved south out of Northeast Iowa.

Scott, just North of Ankeny - My yard is being swarmed! Hundreds of roosting Monarchs tonight!

Sept 17, 2019
Jim (Monona Butterfly Garden) After two days with no monarchs roosting in the Butterfly Garden trees, an estimate of 700 tonight! Nectar source now is New England Aster and Macmillan Sunflower.

Sept 18, 2019
Jim (Monona Butterfly Garden) Many small groups of 10-75 total estimate tonight is 850. New England Aster is finally blooming and a big draw here. we even have them in our yard trees now.

Dave (Des Moines area) The migration is in full force in central Iowa. Yesterday late afternoon and evening I witnessed a continual stream of monarchs flying south 50-100 yards high. At a stoplight at a 235W entrance in Des Moines, around 4:30, I saw at least 50 streaming past in the short time waiting for green. They appeared to be traveling together, same height and following each other. Later I tagged 10 in a resting spot I accidentally located a couple weeks ago...in this spot I tagged 25 over 2 days 9/11-12.

Sept 19, 2019
Jim - Roost count tonight at Monona Butterfly Garden is 900. Note: first year since 2003 we have seen roosts over 100 and several of those years, there were no roosts at all. (2011 & 2012)

Read a Journey North blog about other amazing sightings

Sept 20, 2019
Jim - My home very near the butterfly garden 110, Monona Butterfly Garden 1120, Friends house 350. Total roost count tonight from Monona is 1580..They are definitely on the move in large numbers. Our friend said the two hours earlier their roost was 3-4 times larger so some must have moved on.

Sept 21,2091
Jim - Total estimate this evening 1285 at the Monona Butterfly Garden and 335 in neighbors trees

Dave, Des Moines area - Saw 2 different roosts today, one I was invited to this morning, and one where we’ve been tagging monarchs...today more monarchs than the previous times by far. 100s...not sure how to even estimate the number.

Sepr 23
Cammie - NE of Marion - . Six large clusters of 100-200 and many smaller. Figured it would be a good day with the weather recently. They have been there all afternoon.

Dave - Des Moines area - If you get a chance to be outside today, look up..Monarchs pouring through central Iowa right now, likely the same throughout the state. Stepped on my deck and literally saw a dozen in a few minutes...soaring, circling ... all headed south...saw a similar amount driving a mile down the road for lunch. Enjoy!!

Jim -Butterfly Garden, Monona - Roost estimate is 1000 for tonight. The west wind slowed their progress. Monarchs were everywhere in town and large numbers crossing the highways in south and westerly directions.

Sept 24
Jim - Monona Butterfly Garden - 1400 tonight. strong SSW wind has slowed them down again. the monarchs are roosting significantly lower in the trees and shrubs tonight Roosting on the north and east sides of trees. Cannot remember ever having roosting monarchs for more than 4-5 days, it's almost 2 weeks now!!

Sept 25
Amy from Waterloo - Oh em geeeeeee.... I am stoked that I found these guys hanging out in our trees! I have no idea how to even estimate because they were lots of individual roosting spots all over our tree lines. I may or may not have taken a stupid number of photos of them!

Jim from Monona Butterfly Garden - could be the last monarch roost post this year, 1 roost of 60 monarchs in Monona at the butterfly garden. All the others are on their way to see you all on their way to Mexico.

Sept 26
Susan from Iowa City - My 4 year old and I counted 27 Monarchs in flight over a few MINUTES in the Iowa City area. Made my heart so happy! What we do makes a difference! (Other members also stated they saw monarchs in flight heading south.) 

Nancy from Central City - photographed a roost in her backyard.