Park creates place for royalty

SAINT JOHN - A city famous for its welcome to visitors has added a new type of hospitality. The province's first monarch butterfly way station opened Friday on the Sheldon Point Trail in the Irving Nature Park as part of an international effort to support the far-ranging species.

                                       

Conor Britt, 9, watches as Jim Wilson, past-president of the Saint John Naturalist Club, tags a monarch butterfly at New Brunswick’s first monarch butterfly way station in the Irving Nature Park.

The current batch of monarch butterflies are the eighth generation descendants of those who left Mexico last March, feeding, reproducing and dying every four to six weeks. But this most recent generation will fly 4,000 kilometres, winter in a Mexican mountain range and begin the journey back north in the spring before they reproduce and die, starting the cycle all over again.

"They range from southern Canada to northern portions of South America, but unfortunately they are threatened by loss of habitat," said Jim Wilson, past-president of the Saint John Naturalist Club. "This way station in the Irving Nature Park will provide the monarchs with an area to rest, to feed and, during the summer months, to potentially reproduce."

The butterflies can only reproduce on the milkweed plant, which is abundant between here and Mexico, but was not growing in the Irving Nature Park. A sheltered area has been found in the park and milkweed has been planted in a former pasture.

"That is the only species of plant they can lay their eggs on, and their young - the caterpillars - can feed on and grow into adults," Wilson said. "That makes them very vulnerable and that is one of the reasons the monarch butterfly is a species at risk."

Park manager Samantha Perrin said the groundwork for the project started three years ago with Wilson. He has been tagging and releasing the butterflies in the province as part of Monarch Watch, a conservation and research project at the University of Kansas.

"We started reading about what it takes to become a way station," she said.

After looking around the park, they settled on the area at the beginning of the trail. Once the milkweed is established in the area, the insects may even breed here.

 

Source: Published Saturday September 12th, 2009 - Telegraph Journal