Every fall, millions of monarch butterflies travel more than 2,000 miles across North America, including the Blue Ridge Mountain region, to Mexico where they live over the winter season. While this insect’s popularity continues to rise, its population has faced significant decline due to loss of habitat, climate change and food shortages, including the vital milkweed plant. To help save the species, The North Carolina Arboretum is celebrating these insects through education-based programming throughout the month of September.
“Monarch butterflies are an ideal species for people to focus on to become more involved in conservation,” says Jonathan Marchal, director of education at the Arboretum. “They are so easily recognizable and their migrations are so remarkable that people generally have a strong affinity for them without learning some of the most amazing aspects of their life history.”
As part of the month-long celebration, the Arboretum’s ecoEXPLORE free online citizen science program will host its Entomology Season beginning in September and lasting through November. Open to North Carolina children in grades K-8, participants will learn about the importance of insects, including monarch butterflies, by finding them in the wild and uploading photographic observations to their ecoEXPLORE account where they can earn points for prizes and badges, including a Moth Badge and an Entomology Badge. In addition, ecoEXPLORE will launch a Pollinator Badge in September.
“With most education taking place online now, time away from screens is even more critical,” says Marchal. “While ecoEXPLORE does utilize technology like smartphones, it pairs activities with outdoor exploration in backyards, parks and neighborhoods.”
For adults looking to expand their knowledge of pollinators and monarchs, the Arboretum’s Adult Education Department offers several online classes in September. Classes will be conducted live via Zoom, but students can also pre-register and watch online at a later date.
“While our participants have always enjoyed the camaraderie of taking courses together, we’ve been able to make our online courses very engaging, thanks to our stellar line-up of instructors,” says Marchal.
In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Arboretum will not host its annual Monarch Butterfly Day celebration, but will encourage residents to help with conservation efforts by purchasing their own milkweed plants for their homes and documenting monarch butterfly sightings through the iNaturalist application, which is used by scientists for data collection worldwide. Throughout the month of September, the Arboretum will also be joined by Bee City Asheville, Bee City Hendersonville and Asheville Greenworks with additional program offerings.
For more information about the Arboretum and its educational programming or to register for classes, visit NCArboretum.org. For more information about ecoEXPLORE, visit ecoexplore.net. For more information about monarch butterfly migration and research, visit MonarchWatch.org.