Fall butterfly migration fluttering through Oklahoma
The orange and black butterflies move quickly, fluttering around sunflowers in northwest Oklahoma City.
There were too many to count in a patch of sunflowers on the last day of September.
The monarchs are in Oklahoma in large numbers on their fall migration to Mexico. Their numbers, which have been dwindling in recent years, appear to be on an upswing at several butterfly gardens and way stations.
Oklahoma City Zoo spokeswoman Candice Rennels said the monarchs are abundant this year around the plants and gardens at the zoo.
“Walking around the zoo, it seems there are more monarchs than there ever have been or that I have seen before,” Rennels said.
The zoo staff takes part in tagging monarchs to help nationwide efforts to gather data for research.
Rebecca Snyder, the Oklahoma City Zoo curator of conservation and science, said the zoo is committed to increasing public awareness about the plight of the monarchs and other pollinators.
Numbers of pollinators have been reduced in recent years by pesticides and habitat loss, she said.
“Pollinators are critical to agricultural production and to vibrant ecosystems,” Snyder said.
From planting more monarch gardens to mowing less along highways, efforts to increase monarch numbers have been underway from Minnesota to Texas for several years, with states participating in a monarch highway program along Interstate 35. In Oklahoma, there has been a statewide cutback in mowing since 2016 along highways to help monarchs find more flowers and plants to feed on. High numbers of monarchs this fall have been reported in the Oklahoma City area, said Julia Laughlin, horticulture educator at the Oklahoma State University Oklahoma County Extension office.
Laughlin said there are more than 200 local gardeners who plant monarch food sources.
As the monarchs begin their fall migration that will pass through Oklahoma en route to Mexico, food sources are found along roadways. And there may be plenty of food already.
Mowing has been a challenge this year, said state Transportation Department spokeswoman Madison Schein. Crews try to keep tall grass at least 15 feet away from the pavement. The rainy weather has put all mowing plans behind schedule, Schein said.
There are two monarch way stations that are maintained by Transportation Department, one on State Highway 51 west of Stillwater and another near NE 122 and I-35 in northeast Oklahoma City.
“We are continuing to work with the plan to promote pollinators and maintain public safety,” said Lisa Shearer-Salim, a Transportation Department spokeswoman.
In Stillwater, Kristen Baum, biology professor at Oklahoma State University, said the monarch migration is well underway, and the numbers in central Oklahoma will increase even more when the cooler winds start coming out of the north, and more monarchs move with the wind on their flight south.
“This is the first year in several years that the migration seems to be on time; the migration has been late the past several years,” Baum said. “We have been seeing steady numbers of monarchs since last week, but winds have been consistently out of the south and we have not seen large numbers yet.”
At the Myriad Botanical Gardens in downtown Oklahoma City, large numbers of monarchs passed through last fall, Horticulture Director Nate Tschaenn said. The migration has picked up in recent weeks, he said.
Liz Hodgson, an engineering intern in the pavement management division at Oklahoma Department of Transportation, works at a monarch station garden that is maintained at NE 122 and Interstate 35 in northeast Oklahoma City. The garden grows food sources for the monarchs.
Max Romais, an engineering intern in the pavement management division at Oklahoma Department of Transportation, works planting food sources for monarchs at a way station garden at NE 122 and Interstate 35.