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Toledo Zoo releases 600 monarchs, up from 250 last year

TNS Regional News • Sep 10, 2015 at 5:07 PM

The first monarch butterfly to fly away Wednesday afternoon had been perched on a finger of a woman’s steady hand.

It floated upward before landing nearby.

Ryan Walsh, Wild Toledo coordinator at the Toledo Zoo, said the butterflies like to hang out for a few days before they start their long journey south to Mexico for the winter.

This year, since Aug. 31, 600 monarch butterflies — including 82 Wednesday — have been tagged and released from the zoo, Mr. Walsh said. Before the end of the butterfly migration season in early October, Mr. Walsh said he expects to release another 600 butterflies.

Last year the zoo released 250 butterflies.

This is the second year the zoo has released monarchs after breeding them in its greenhouses. Starting in late May or early June, monarch butterfly eggs are gathered from prairies where milkweed, the monarch butterfly food of choice, is grown.

 The eggs are transferred to milkweed plants grown in greenhouses. Three generations are bred — each living up to four weeks in captivity — before the migrating generation is born. Those that travel to Mexico have a life span of about nine months, Mr. Walsh said.

The trek south takes months — from the Toledo Zoo to Mexico’s northeastern border is more than 1,500 miles by the roads. Mr. Walsh said that research suggests butterflies find their way south and then back home by magnetization, the same way birds are able to migrate just before winter hits.

Monarchs that start their migration much closer to Mexico typically start to show up on, or about, the Day of the Dead — which, this year, is Nov. 1, Mr. Walsh said. The great-great grandchildren of the migrating butterflies will be the ones to come back to Toledo.

Before a butterfly is ever released, a small, round sticker is placed on one of its wings. Each sticker has a series of numbers and letters, which allows the butterfly to be tracked on its journey when loaded into a database with other information. 

Those tagging monarchs are asked to record data about each butterfly, including the tracking number, the butterfly’s sex, the date of release, and location, which is ultimately compiled by Monarch Watch out of the University of Kansas.

Mr. Walsh said the population of monarchs has declined in the past 20 years because newer herbicides more effectively kill the milkweed that the butterflies rely on for sustenance.

The zoo has planted about 20 acres of prairies, containing milkweed, throughout the area, including among the wildflowers in the median along the Anthony Wayne Trail.

Several women from the Toledo Opera Guild, who listened to a luncheon presentation on monarchs and milkweed by Mr. Walsh, left the butterfly release saying they felt inspired to grow the native plant at their homes.

Milkweed, he said, is a native perennial that can be purchased at local greenhouses.

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By Taylor Dungjen - The Blade, Toledo, Ohio (MCT)

©2015 The Blade (Toledo, Ohio)

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