LOGAN, OH – Visitors to southeast Ohio’s Hocking Hills region this month have a one-of-a-kind opportunity for hands-on immersion into the lifecycle of iconic monarch butterflies.
A team of volunteer naturalists is tagging this year’s bumper crop of the insect beauties – almost daily -- at the , encouraging visitors to take part and experience firsthand the uniqueness of monarch migration. Tagging and releasing the newly emerged monarchs takes place nearly every day (except in the rain), depending on their emergence.
Naturalists, with the help of Hocking Hills visitors, place tiny, numbered sticky dots on Monarch wings before they’re released. They can then be tracked and logged on the website when spotted in other locations.
The practice helps researchers learn more about monarch migration. The Welcome Center team ordered 500 tags, but very few remain as they used far more tags than anticipated.
“Monarch migration is truly one of the world's greatest natural wonders,” said Ohio Certified Volunteer Naturalist Andrea Jones, who spearheaded the program. “Huge numbers of monarchs have been sighted in the Hocking Hills this year, spending the summer and laying their eggs in Ohio before their offspring pupate, emerge and instinctually take off to fly some 2,300 miles south to Mexico for winter.”
Jones added that beginning in early summer, monarchs stop in Logan, OH to refuel and lay eggs for the next generation, with nearly 1000 caterpillars pupating in the area from late summer to fall. During the chrysalis stage, Jones and her team move the jade green chrysalides into the Welcome Center’s educational monarch display for up to two weeks before the larvae naturally emerge as adult butterflies. They’re then tagged and released. The program will continue in 2019, with plans in place to expand the garden and tagging operations.
Unfortunately, this natural marvel is threatened by habitat loss, with a more than 90 percent decline in monarch populations over the last 20 years serving as an ecological red flag. Thus, the volunteer naturalists created the Monarch Waystation at the Welcome Center by planting a butterfly garden filled with nectar-producing flowering plans that attract the blazing gold, yellow, orange, black and white insects. In addition, naturalists planted milkweed, which inspires females to lay eggs by providing a rich source of food for monarch larvae. Frequent rain this season fed a prolific milkweed crop, resulting in an abundance of eggs. Jones encourages travelers who visit to create butterfly habitat by planting milkweed and native flowers in their own yards and natural areas at home.
Monarch Waystation Programs, like the one in the Hocking Hills, work together across North America to study the decline of the monarch population by tracking migration and encouraging conservation. Each fall, millions of monarch butterflies migrate from the United States and Canada to Mexico, Texas and California where they wait out the winter until conditions favor a return flight north in spring.
Located 40 miles southeast of Columbus, Ohio's Hocking Hills region is marked by soaring cliffs, craggy caves, rushing waterfalls and 10,000 acres of unbroken forest woven with hundreds of miles of hiking trails. With an absence of city lights and resulting extraordinary dark skies, the area is also home to the John Glenn Astronomy Park.
These and a host of other once-in-a-lifetime experiences emphasize nature, stewardship and unplugged quality time with friends, family and loved ones. Unique gift and antique shops, artists' studios, Appalachian music and moonshine, hands-on activities, kayaking, canopy tours, eco tours and rappelling add to the allure of the Hocking Hills as the perfect place to escape and make meaningful memories. Complete traveler information is available or 1-800-Hocking (800-462-5464).
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