A newly hatched adult feeding on Cirsium sp, "Bull Thistle"
Asclepius milkweed pods maturing and beginning to open
Newly formed chrysalis
Mature Asclepius milkweed pods bursting open to reveal seeds
Trail Signs Point Out Our Various Meadows
Monarch on Echium vulgare, "Viper Bugloss"
ThunderCroft's Monarch Watch Program
One of the most fascinating conservation projects at ThunderCroft is our partnership with the official MonarchWatch Program out of the University of Kansas. Collectively, our 160 acres of meadows and forests serve as an official Monarch Butterfly Waystation Habitat which provides food resources for multiple generations each season. Adult monarch butterflies are not terribly choosy about their nectar sources so visitors to ThunderCroft will delight in watching them feed on a wide variety of wildflowers in our meadows. When preparing to lay their delicate eggs, they pay special attention to our populations of native Milkweed plants which are the sole source of food for their caterpillars. Of particular importance in the milkweed and monarch relationship is the "last" generation of emerging monarchs, for they have one of the most difficult seasonal migration patterns in all of the animal kingdom and therefore, we work diligently to provide them with nectar sources throughout the fall.
A migrating Monarch who has fallen victim to a late summer garden spider
The Last Generation of the Season
Cued by fall's subtle changes in temperature and day length, the last summer generation of adult monarch butterflies must prepare themselves for a migratory journey often spanning over 3,000 miles in quest. As human populations have continued to rapidly expand, they have colonized much of the remaining native wildflower habitats, often forcing butterflies to face starvation along their southern journey. Strength and longevity are needed to fend off predators and survive rainstorms and damaging winds. The last generation of the season includes the end of the current season's milkweed. With flowers spent, seed pods form and continue to grow throughout the later summer and into autumn. As frost approaches, they burst open, sending their airborne seeds to continue their species. We highly encourage the collection and planting of milkweed seeds and are happy to offer seeds for our visitors to take home and share. As native populations of milkweed continue to dwindle, our motto is, "A Milkweed in Every Yard"--please help us!
About Monarch Waystations
Among its numerous conservation programs, the MonarchWatch organization encourages humans to consider creating and maintaining a Monarch Waystation Habitat which provides Spring to Fall support for breeding populations of Monarchs as well as the final migratory population. With Milkweed ranking in priority as a food source for both caterpillars and adult butterflies, landowners are encouraged to plant and maintain open fields and meadows stocked with Milkweed varieties. Other native wildflowers such as Bull Thistle, Viper Bugloss, Plains Coreopsis and numerous sunflowers provide additional nectar support for hungry adults.
ThunderCroft incorporated several Monarch Waystation Habitats as part of their Meadow Restoration Projects. Most of our trails contain naturally occurring native wildflowers; however, we have encouraged the growth of several milkweed species and an abundance of native wildflowers in several of our meadows throughout ThunderCroft. Specifically, hosts Butterfly Meadow, hosts Caldwell Meadow and hosts Bear Meadow. Visitors walking our trails throughout the warm seasons are encouraged to look for monarch eggs and caterpillars on our Milkweed plants and are encouraged to watch carefully for these elusive butterflies. They are easily spooked moderately slow fliers with somewhat of an erratic flapping pattern making observation possible only to the patient and quiet observer. Hiding in plain sight are the chrysalises, beautifully camouflaged in the nearby brambles and vegetation. If visitors are lucky enough to find one that is ready to hatch, it will be quite easy to see the neatly folded butterfly underneath the translucent chrysalis. These are certainly worth sitting with as they generally tend to hatch within a few hours.
Large milkweed blossoms, Asclepius sp. offer nectar for adult butterflies and leaves for caterpillars
Despite its bold warning colors, the caterpillar camouflages easily on its host plant