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‘If you build it they will come’: Wild monarch butterflies return to P.E.I. – Prince Edward Island

It’s taken three years of breeding, raising, tagging and releasing domestic monarch butterflies, but the Bedeque Bay Environmental Management Association (BBEMA) says this year, wild monarch butterflies have returned to P.E.I. from Mexico.

BBEMA made the discovery at its monarch way station gardens in Emerald, P.E.I., last week.

It’s very exciting,” said Tracy Brown, executive director of BBEMA.

“What we’ve been doing is we’ve been propagating and building up gardens in order to provide nectaring and feeding stations for the monarchs for the ones we release and hopefully for ones coming back as well. We’ve had to build up the beds and we’ve had to plant the milkweed.”

‘Species at risk’

The monarchs have been breeding and laying eggs in milkweed gardens built on top of old train beds.

BBEMA staff took a habitat of jplain grass, added swmap milkweed native to P.E.I., and turned it into a breeding opportunity for a species at risk.

Tracy Brown of BBEMA searches for wild monarch caterpillars in a milkweed garden built on old train beds. (Tom Steepe/CBC)

“The monarch butterflies unfortunately right now are a species at risk. It is on an extreme decline. In the last 20 years, we’ve lost about 90 per cent of the population,” said Brown.

“Right now, our goal is to work with landowners and try and increase the habitat. Right now the biggest issue and the biggest threat to them is loss of habitat, loss of breeding habitat and loss of nectaring habitat.”

Each day, more and more caterpillars appear in the gardens — a sign of good things to come for the wild monarch population.

‘Hunt for caterpillars’

“Obviously, they’ve loved our habitat,” said Brown. “They’ve come back, they’ve bred, and they’ve laid eggs, so we now have quite a few caterpillars and everyday you kind of see more because as they grow, they double their size every second day, so every couple of days my staff gets to come out and go on a hunt for caterpillars.”

The first wild…

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