Monarch Butterflies Migration

in Ohio Cleveland Metroparks

One exciting pre-fall event is the Monarch butterflies migration that funnels through Ohio beaches from Canada on their way to Mexico.  This page provides a local overview of weather patterns and understanding when best to see this phenomenon.

For a fully detailed understanding of the Monarch butterfly migration to Mexico,
click here.

Photo: Pontus Edenberg

During late August, September and early October millions of Monarch butterflies fly south through the northern United States with only one goal- to overwinter in the Oyamel Fir Forest in Mexico ensuring species survival.

One welcoming stop along the way is just off Lake Erie in Cleveland Ohio. "It's a span of about 40 miles the butterflies travel across the lake" states Cleveland Metroparks naturalist and migration expert Jen Brumfield. "Relying on northern winds the Monarchs catch a tailwind and glide along at about 5 miles per hour. They can get up to 10 or more mph with the right tailwind, but strong winds with storms are dangerous for travel".

"Winds can change in an instant and a storm could kick up over the lake. Although the Monarch butterfly is an extremely tough species designed for this long commute mortality can be bad. With storm fronts winds often change to a south-westerly direction and a harsh storm's precipitation can bring the butterfly down." states Jen.

Continuing, Jen says: "Monarch butterfly wings are shaped for migrating. When comparing the wings of the Monarch to those of the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly look closely at the forewings. Aside from the (non-functional) tail streamers on the swallowtail, the hind wings of both species are rounded out. It's the front wings that make the difference.  The Monarch butterfly has longer forewings that taper out. The wings highest point is narrow and angular allowing them to glide long distances."

This is not like the annual Buzzard Day in Hinckley Ohio where you know when to be there. Last year the 2011 Monarch butterflies migration the 2nd and 3rd weeks in September that had the most activity.

The 2012 season started with the Monarchs having to wait for the effects of Hurricane Isaac to pass before they could launch their commute. North-eastern Ohio saw rain from Isaac for the first part of the Labor Day weekend. This kept the Monarchs bogged up in Canada unable to fly. Once their first break in the weather came the Monarchs made a huge push out riding the winds over the lake to Ohio.

Photo: Siria Ama Bilia

Jen stated that Labor Day brought this beautiful explosion
of butterflies to our shores.

Monarch Butterfly amazing migration - BBC Life HD
from Saad W. on Vimeo.


When asking Jen why was it that my butterfly garden didn't see many Monarch butterflies this summer but a great deal of other species, she said simply "weather patterns". She continues:

"It was a mild winter for most of the country and many butterfly pupa survived and hatched sooner. Here in Ohio we witnessed an enormous and phenomenal Red Admiral butterfly migration. On the other hand a great deal of the country had drought conditions far more serious than ours over the summer. The south-westerly winds were up and created a large push of various southern Lepidoptera species to come up seeking water. The Long Tailed Skipper came up from the south and even a greater surprise was the Black Witch Moth, which is easily the size of our hand".

As far as the Monarch butterflies around my garden, Jen says they may also have caught a south wind up to Canada or be visiting more of the WayStations throughout the Metroparks in the region.

Jen also wants to get the word out that the Monarch butterflies migration and habitat in Mexico is decreasing. As logging continues, many are working to preserve the Monarch butterfly species. Jen encourages everyone to learn more about these WayStations and personally planting Butterfly Weed and Swamp Milkweed in your gardens. Both plants are key to the monarch butterfly life cycle.

To learn more about WayStations in the Metroparks and other recommendations per Jen, copy and paste into browser the following:

Thank you Jen Brumfield from Cleveland Metroparks for your time.

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