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The Town of Saugeen Shores presented the first of four 2015 Waterfront Environment Speaker Series on Thursday, July 23rd at Pioneer Park in Southampton. Each of the speeches will feature discussions by experts on environmental topics such as this week's “Flight of the Butterfly” with Kerry Jarvis and added information from Melitta Smole and Stuart Nutt. The three had formed the Butterfly Gardens of Saugeen Shores last summer with the goal of helping Monarch butterflies.

“As you know Monarchs are in trouble. The flight of the Monarch butterflies is a precarious one right now,” said Jarvis. “We're seeing less and less in Southern Ontario, through the U.S. and in Mexico.”

Monarchs are found around the world, in the Carribean, Australia and the U.K. but they are unique to North America as they are the only migrating insect that crosses three countries. Wintering in Mexico in trans volcanic mountain ranges in the state of Michoacán, usually by the millions, Monarchs roost in the Oyamel tree. The Oyamel, Jarvis says, is also known as the cathedral tree as its almost heavenly when you see it with all the monarchs roosting on it in the winter. “They look like fall coloured leaves with their wings closed.”

Melitta Smole, in talking about her and Jarvis' experience on a visit to Mexico described one thing that really stuck in her mind. “We saw hundreds of thousands of them and ... when they fly it sounds like rain.”

A Milkweed leaf with a new Monarch butterfly egg on it was passed around so that everyone could see what one looked like; followed by another leaf with a young Monarch caterpillar. It was explained that the female Monarch picks out the healthiest plant they find and they lay up to 100 eggs.

Jarvis went on to say, “We didn't start seeing Monarchs until sometime into the third or fourth week in June up here. Normally we would see them just after the May 24 weekend or by the first weekend in June ... but this year's been a real skinny year. This is the third year in a row where the population has declined quite substantially.”

Jarvis explained that there was a variety of reasons why the Monarch is in danger with one of the main reasons being over development of land.

He said the only plant the Monarch lays its eggs on is Milkweed plants but up until the Spring of last year it was actually on the Noxious Weed Act in Ontario. It was de-listed in April 2014, so there's now no by-laws in communities for growing Milkweed plants, although Quebec does still have it listed as a noxious weed.

Jarvis went on to say that sometimes there is discord between countries, each with their own unique challenges. From Canada not allowing milkweed to grow to Mexico's Oyamel tree logging practices to the midwest corn belt containing GMO crops. “That's why we started the Butterfly Gardens of Saugeen Shores. In our own little way we think every community in Ontario can make a difference and every person can make a difference,” he said.

Jarvis then went on to speak about the life cycle of the Monarch, more specifically the butterfly's chrysalis, which is a limey green with gold flecks at the top of it. “It's kind of nice because scientists still don't know what those gold flecks are for. There's been some theories about them but we kind of believe that it's a nice idea that we don't have all the answers to nature. We think it's good that we don't know everything.”

Typically it's the fourth generation of Monarchs that migrate to Mexico. The first three generations lay eggs, which become caterpillars, enter into a chrysalis stage, emerge as a butterfly, mate and start the process again but the fourth generation of Monarchs emerge in reproductive diapause, which means they won’t mate or lay eggs until the following spring. Jarvis said that normally insects are there to feed and to breed but this last generation turns off their sexual functions and just focusses on feeding in order to accumulate and store lipids and protein for the 2,000 kilometre migration.

One of the goals of Butterfly Gardens of Saugeen Shores was to help the plight of the Monarchs and toward that end, have planted about 40 different species of plants native to Ontario and three different types of Milkweed.

The second of the Waterfront Environment Speaker Series will be “Piping Plovers on our Beaches” held on July 30th at the Emmett McGrath Pavilion at the Port Elgin Main Beach.

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