Connecting people with nature in Ontario's Mississippi Valley

 A report yesterday from the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife (COSEWIC) in Canada shows that the “status” of the Monarch butterfly needs to be changed to ENDANGERED. In the report: “We need to continue to support the conservation of milkweed caterpillar habitat both here in Canada and along the Monarch’s migratory journey, and we need to support continued conservation of critical overwintering areas. Otherwise, Monarch migration may disappear, and Canada may lose this iconic species.”

Read the December 5, 2016 COSEWIC report



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A monarch of the insect variety ruled at the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists’ (MVFN) 2015 Spring Gathering at the Almonte Civitan Community Hall on May 21st. Over 130 people gathered for the 6th annual dinner, awards ceremony and presentation, Mysteries of the Monarch Butterfly.

The Almonte Civitan was a flourish of butterflies, spring wildflowers and brilliant ‘butterfly & spring’ colors of green, orange and yellow sprouting from sparkling glasses, thanks to the design inspiration of MVFN members Lucy and Neil Carleton. An interesting educational display on butterflies was created by Neil Carleton. The large group mingled and met with friends as much interest and excitement was generated by the Burnt Lands Alvar Silent Auction fundraiser, organized by Bob and Cheryl Smith and the Alvar Campaign committee. Amongst the items:  a basket loaded with everything needed to create a monarch butterfly garden with a young child! Thanks to the generosity of club members and local community gardeners, birders, artists, business owners, and of course successful bidders, the Burnt Lands Alvar fundraiser was a resounding success!


Following a delicious dinner by Civitan volunteers, awards presentations began with MVFN Past President Ken Allison as Master of Ceremonies. Friend and Mississippi Madawaska Land Trust (MMLT) co-board member, Mary Vandenhoff, presented an MVFN Champion for Nature award to Howard Clifford, MMLT President and co-steward of the ‘Cliffland’ nature preserve and Blueberry Mountain.  Almonte and District High School student Ruth Tamas was awarded the 2015 Cliff Bennett Nature Bursary Award, presented by Bursary Chair Mike Macpherson. Dedicated to a sustainable future, Tamas plans to study Environmental Engineering. An exciting announcement also took place when Barbara Chouinard of the Ottawa Field Naturalists Club presented a $5000 cheque for MVFN’s Burnt Lands Alvar Campaign.

Guest speaker Jean Lauriault (Canadian Museum of Nature Associate) was enthusiastically introduced by Mary and Howard Robinson who were part of MVFN’s first ever international outing, led by Jean, to the overwintering grounds of the Monarch butterfly in Mexico.

In an inspired presentation, Jean told the story of the Monarch, the only butterfly to migrate; with the eastern North American ones migrating to Mexico and back each year. Now they are on their way back —the ‘great grandbutterfly’ descendants of the ones that left here last fall. Almost here now— out of Mexico they follow spring weather and healthy milkweeds through the Southern U.S. (where native milkweeds grow in early spring but then die off),   progressing northwards to our area. Once here several generations lasting only a few weeks are born, but in August those born will live for ~9 months. During that time the same individuals seen here will fly to the mountains of Mexico using staging grounds such as Point Pelee to cross large lakes, live the winter in Mexico along with millions of others in very dense clusters in trees, and finally travel north out of Mexico, then breed and die. Still a mystery: how they manage the journey; is it an inherited behavior triggered by circadian clock, or is navigation via the sun, magnetic fields, etc.? Originally a tropical species, it is thought that 10,000 years ago the species came north as glaciers melted and they now must migrate. Also a mystery: why one location in Mexico, El Rosaria, is the choice overwintering ground, chosen first over others.

Between Monarchs and milkweeds, a delicate relationship exists. Eggs must be laid on only certain milkweed species; the only plants the caterpillar can eat. The adult chooses plants with enough, but not too much, toxic cardenolides (which is sequestered to make the Monarch toxic to prey); plants are evaluated carefully using receptors on the legs and antennae. Loss of wildflower habitat (nectar species for the adults) in the U.S. where millions of hectares are planted with corn and soybean for biofuels, pesticides such as the neonicotinoids,  loss of the critical milkweed hosts, threats to the integrity of overwintering grounds,  and climate change all threaten the Monarch. Efforts in the Southern U.S. to plant certain milkweed species are now known to backfire because unlike native milkweeds, some species do not die off and the population’s movement north and its subsequent migration (which keeps the population healthy and lowers diseases) may not take place. Protecting milkweed and preserving pesticide-free wildlife space here helps the butterfly.

Jean was thanked by former MVFN President Joyce Clinton and the evening wrapped up with door prizes and hidden chair-prizes of mixed milkweed seeds to be planted as food to help out the larvae of our favorite butterfly!

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Jean Lauriault
Press Story
Amazing Monarchs at MVFN
January 24, 2008
by Sheila Edwards

A large crowd gathered January 17 for a Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists (MVFN) lecture on Monarchs presented by Jean Lauriault of the Canadian Museum of Nature. As one of Canada’s foremost Monarch experts and member of a tri-national committee for conservation of these animals, Lauriault knows Monarchs well. Monarchs (Danaus plexippus) have a very interesting life cycle, as short as 20 days, or 9 months long. During a hot summer the cycle is quick and thus more generations are born. From June to August, adults lay eggs on milkweed. In 3 to 15 days they hatch and there are 5 instars or molts of the caterpillar (larvae) taking up to 14 days, before the pupa or chrysalis (not cocoon) stage is reached. The adults emerge within 7-15 days and will live as little as 14 days or as long as 8-9 months for the late-season adults emerging in August. These are the adults which go into sexual diapause and begin the amazing migration south, remaining sterile until starting their return trip.

Monarch migration has always fascinated scientists, children, and nature lovers alike, but it wasn’t until 1975 that the site of their winter home in Mexico was discovered. As they leave Canada, Monarchs in Ontario gather at ‘staging’ areas to cross Lake Erie and Ontario. Then, covering distances of up to 100 km per day at heights of up to 1 km, they head to locations in southern US and remote areas in Mexico. Little is known about the stopover locations used during their trip, but upon arrival as many as 50 million butterflies may congregate within trees in a single hectare. They do not eat all winter but survive on stored Lipids. In March as the area gets drier, they mate and head north, with many stopping in Texas to lay their eggs and die, leaving the next generation to complete the return journey. Those arriving in Canada are the children of those that left in August.

It is hard enough to conserve a species that stays put, but conserving Monarchs, Lauriault noted, poses a ‘super challenge”, requiring the efforts of three countries. Concerns in Mexico include protecting the remote wooded area favoured by the Monarch, from illegal logging. When return migration commences clouds of butterflies fly low over the land and thousands/millions may be killed by vehicles. Important also are the stopover areas in the US, many not yet identified, where a generation may be raised in the spring, and where non-migrating Monarchs may also live.

What can we do here in Canada to conserve Monarchs? The staging areas in southern Ontario need continued protection. Secondly, Milkweed, the sole food of the caterpillar, is classified as a weed since it is toxic to cattle; action needs to be taken to remove this classification. A very aggressive invasive species that has gotten a strong foothold in Ontario is dog-strangling vine (Pale Swallowwort), also in the milkweed family. Adults can mistakenly lay their eggs on it, but the hatched caterpillars cannot eat this plants leaves. Dog-strangling vine should be eradicated whenever possible. Finally as Lauriault pointed out, the adult butterflies feed on nectar of various wild flowers and thus roadside flora need to be protected from mowing and herbicide application. On an up note, provide habitat by planting a butterfly garden, and enjoy!

To wrap up our evening, we presented Jean Lauriault with a Monarch T-shirt. He then drew a name for a second Monarch shirt, won by Teresa Peluso. Both shirts were donated by Neil Carleton, a local educator who often uses Monarchs for teaching biology and conservation in his classroom.

The next lecture in our series “Our Natural World: Conservation Challenges” on Thursday, Feb 21st will be “Ontario’s Birds” presented by Cliff Bennett, an MVFN founding member and Ontario East Director for Ontario Nature. For more information please contact Program Chair Joyce Clinton at 613-257-4879 or email . MVFNs Annual Winter Walk will take place February 17th. Learn about Winter Adaptations of Plants and Animals. For more information call Cliff Bennett at 613-256-5013 or refer to for information on either of these upcoming events.


1. Further information on butterflies can be found in The Butterflies of Canada by Layberry, Hall and Lafontaine, parts of which can be found on-line at

2. More information on dog-strangling vine may be found at, and

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Press Release
Mississippi Valley Field Naturalist
January 3, 2008
Submitted by Pauline Donaldson

Conservation Challenges: focus on monarchs, with Jean Lauriault of the Canadian Museum of Nature

ButterflyNext Thursday, January 17th, the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists (MVFN) proudly present a lecture by Jean Lauriault of the Canadian Museum of Nature, as our “Our Natural World: Conservation Challenges” lecture series continues for the New Year. A case study of the remarkable monarch butterfly will highlight the lecture’s focus on butterfly conservation challenges. Our guest speaker is one of Canada’s foremost experts on conservation efforts for monarchs and is the lead for Canada on the Canada/Mexico/U.S. Trilateral Committee for Wildlife and Ecosystem Conservation and Management’s Monarch Butterfly Advisory Group.

At this time of year millions of monarch butterflies sleep, dormant in their humid sanctuaries in the mountainous Oyamel fir forests of Mexico. These are the same late season, longer-lived adults who left our gardens and fields last fall to take the few thousand mile journey south. They will remain there until March when longer days trigger sexual maturation and their return trip north, which will take several generations in tandem.

A botanist and environmentalist, Jean Lauriault, is Environmental Specialist for the Canadian Centre for Biodiversity at the Canadian Museum of Nature and author of the Identification Guide to Trees of Canada. He is reportedly seldom at his desk at the museum, however, doing field work in Michoacan, Mexico and, closer to home, as project manager for the Frenchman River Biodiversity Project in Saskatchewan and previously the Rideau River Biodiversity Project. Lauriault has traveled to Mexico for the past 12 years, including in December as member of the North American Monarch Conservation Plan Committee. Lauriault is also a teacher trainer for monarch biology and conservation and is involved in certification of the Canadian Wildlife Federation (CWF) Backyard Habitat program for monarchs, and educational resources for Montreal’s Insectarium.

January seems a good time to study the biology and conservation issues facing these intriguing lepidopterans. Conservation for the larvae may seem as simple as protection of host milkweed populations and for the adults conservation could focus on the many wildflowers important for these and other butterflies. A closer look however, reveals more complex and interesting conservation issues for the monarch butterfly, whose winter sanctuaries comprising millions of individuals were only finally discovered in 1976. Our speaker will explore these issues and let us know what we can do for butterfly conservation.

The lecture by Jean Lauriault, “The Monarch Butterfly: insights into the biology, host plants and predators” will take place Thursday January 17th at 7:30 pm at the Almonte United Church Social Hall, 106 Elgin St., Almonte. There is a fee of $5 for non-members over 16. Refreshments provided as usual and free colorful butterfly posters from CWF will also be available. All are welcome. For more information, please contact MVFN’s Program Chair Joyce Clinton at 613-257-4879 or see MVFN’s website at

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