Autumn is a season of change not only for the leaves on trees, but for many migrating wildlife species.
In Ohio, we have the opportunity to witness not only the flight of thousands of birds, but that of monarch butterflies.
Every fall, monarch butterflies make an amazing journey. They fly up to 3,000 miles from various points in North America to their wintering grounds amid the forested mountains of central Mexico. In fact, monarchs are the only tropical butterfly to make such a marathon flight.
This annual passage is similar to the type of migration we expect from birds, whales and other mammals. However, unlike those species, the monarch makes the round-trip once. It is their off-spring's offspring that return south the following fall.
In Ohio, September is a great time to witness this spectacle as the orange and black monarchs follow a southwesterly course across the state. Unlike the warmer months when seen flying solo, large clusters of migrating monarchs will roost in trees at night, providing warmth against the elements and protection from predators.
It is believed that as monarchs travel south, they conserve energy in flight by gliding on air currents. They also continue gathering nectar to replenish their fuel supply and actually gain weight during the trip.
Did you know that in an effort to better understand the life habits of monarchs, researchers actually "tag" them for study? This involves placing a small, round, flat sticker with numbers on the underside of the hindwing.
According to researchers, this should be a banner year for viewing monarchs because of Mexico's lack of winter storms in February. In the Buckeye State, monarchs can be seen now visiting residential flowerbeds, along weedy roadsides, and among open fields of golden rod and asters - almost anywhere nectar-bearing plants are growing.
In central Ohio, a high concentration of monarchs is frequently found in the old fields of Delaware State Wildlife Area. Large numbers are also often seen resting on the shores of Lake Erie after their exhausting flight over the water.
Fall is a spectacularly colorful time in Ohio, from the leaves on the trees to the wings of migrating monarchs. To learn more about monarchs and how you can become involved in the tagging program visit monarchwatch.org