Since late June, the Gatineau Park Visitor Centre has been hosting an exhibit as ephemeral and fascinating as its subject: the growth of the monarch butterfly. In a butterfly aviary, eggs, caterpillars and chrysalises grow in a carefully sheltered location, near a window out front. Luc Picard, an enthusiastic monarch butterfly expert, visits every day to ensure that the aviary is clean and that the caterpillars have enough milkweed leaves to eat. Once they reach the adult butterfly stage, the intriguing creatures that greet visitors are released.
Where are monarchs found in Gatineau Park?
In 2015 and 2016, the National Capital Commission (NCC) conducted a study to evaluate
areas conducive to monarch butterflies. The presence of milkweed, the food source of monarch caterpillars, was one indicator.
Milkweed is a perennial native plant that grows in full sunlight and thus in open habitat. About 4% of Gatineau Park’s habitat fits this description.
Milkweed host plants can be found at the following locations:
- Meech Creek Valley, near P16
- trails 5 and 27, near P2
- the Church Hill Picnic Area
- the Luskville Falls Trail parking lot
How is Gatineau Park helping this species?
In November 2016, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) identified the monarch butterfly as a species at risk.
In the previous year, the NCC had already inventoried 57 locations to establish their order of importance to the monarch. It selected 13 such locations of high or very high importance, and regularly monitors them to assess the species’ presence and reproductive success.
In 2015 and 2016, the NCC assessed the monarch butterfly habitat in Gatineau Park and NCC urban lands in Quebec. The purpose of the project was to
- evaluate habitat potential and the species’ reproductive success
- monitor populations
- identify threats on our lands
In the first year of the project, the monarch’s stages of growth were monitored. Apart from the presence of cocoons (pupae or chrysalids), the NCC also observed eggs, larva and five- to 50-millimetre caterpillars, depending on their stage of development, along with male and female adult butterflies. This activity proved that Gatineau Park provides a habitat conducive to the monarch’s reproduction, and led to the creation of strategies to promote its conservation.
On Saturday, July 27, participants in the Citizen Science Program surveyed the population of monarch butterflies close to P3 parking lot (Gamelin Street and the Gatineau Parkway). With great dedication, they inspected almost 1,600 milkweed plants on which they observed 23 eggs, six caterpillars and two adult butterflies. This survey effort fits within Mission Monarch, which is run, in eastern Canada, by the Montreal Insectarium. Its purpose is to collect information and protect the species.
Various efforts have been made to raise awareness and inform the public about the status of the monarch butterfly. The Visitor Centre exhibit is one example. This kind of exhibit offers a glimpse of these insects as they grow, in captivity, before they are released as adult butterflies. Observing the life cycle of the monarch butterfly is time well spent, but fleeting, much like the time that this astonishing migrator spends with us!