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Taking a break for milkweed nectar: Some monarchs fly 200 miles a day for six weeks to get to their overwintering sites. Michael Patricia Fogden

Monarchs, Migration and Tiny Tags

Sue Halpern
Kids' Fall 2009

Wander through Ontario’s Presquile Park any fall day and chances are you’ll see monarch butterflies – lots of them. Presquile is a launching pad for nature’s most intrepid insect: from here the monarchs will fly nearly three thousand miles in about six weeks, logging up to 200 miles a day, to get to their overwintering site in the Transvolcanic Mountains of Mexico. They will have to evade hawks and other predators, dodge cars, and cope with a changing landscape that has ever less water to drink and fewer flowers for fuel, as farmer’s fields in the Midwest are plowed under and paved over, as highway median strips throughout the east are mowed, as the oyemel forests in the Mexican mountains that offer cover from
winter rain and snow are cut down for fuel, and as the demand for water, coupled with drought, drain the aquifers upon which we all rely. Though monarchs are one of the most abundant butterflies in the world, this shrinking habitat has led scientists to declare their unprecedented, long-distance migration, an “endangered phenomenon.”

But not if Don Davis can help it. Davis is an unassuming, compact, middle-aged man who is almost as likely as a monarch to be found in Presquile Park. If the monarch is the king of butterflies, Davis is its most loyal liege. For the past forty years, since he was a seventeen-year-old high school student working on a science fair project, Davis has been tagging monarchs, raising monarchs, educating the public about monarchs, and advising the governments of three countries about monarchs – and he’s not even a scientist. Not in the traditional sense, anyway. By day, and sometimes by night, Davis makes his living as a social worker – at one time he ran a facility for juvenile offenders. But he has made his life on the shore of Lake Ontario, net in hand.

About the Author
Sue Halpern is the author of Four Wings and a Prayer: Caught in theMystery of the Monarch Butterfly and four other books.