‘Butterfly buffet’ makes Roan Mountain popular destination for monarchs
Published 10:19 am Monday, June 22, 2015
The area and vegetation surrounding the historic Miller Homestead in the Roan Mountain State Park is a way station for one of North America’s most recognizable species of butterfly.
The monarch butterfly, recognizable by the distinctive pattern on its wings, is not yet visible in the Roan Mountain Park area this season, but monarch caterpillars and eggs should start showing up soon, park ranger Amanda Smithson said. July through early August is the best time for monarchs in Roan Mountain.
So what makes the park such a great place for the monarch butterfly? It has a lot to do with the type of vegetation that grows in the park.
“We have a great nectar source for butterflies in the area,” Smithson said.
In its caterpillar stage, the monarch’s entire diet consists of the milkweed, a green leafy plant that secretes a milklike fluid. The park has a couple of varieties of the milkweed plant, such as butterfly weed and swamp weed, making it a great habitat for monarch butterflies.
To determine whether they have landed on a milkweed plant, adult monarchs use sensors on the bottom of their feet to taste the plant.
“Their feelers act somewhat like taste buds,” Smithson said. “Adult monarch will lay their eggs on milkweed so that the caterpillars will have something to munch on when they hatch.”
Eating the milkweed plant gives the monarch some defense as it matures, Smithson said.
“As the caterpillar matures from its larval stage to the pupal stage to an adult, the milkweed plant actually makes the monarch toxic,” Smithson said. “It works as a natural defense.”
The monarch is not as picky of an eater when it is in its butterfly stage, Smithson. That is why the park does not mow a lot of the vegetation around the homestead. Plants like goldenrod and ironweed are some of butterfly’s favorite food source and grow in Roan Mountain State Park.
“We have a butterfly buffet,” Smithson said.
Smithson said she has not yet seen any monarchs in the area but expect they will start showing up in a couple of weeks. For anybody interested in seeing monarchs the area around the Miller Homestead is a perfect place, she said.