For nature lovers, the annual fall monarch butterfly migration is one of the most memorable events of the year. Wakulla County is directly in the path of the southerly migration towards the winter warmth of central Mexico, and the occasion is commemorated by the annual Monarch Butterfly Festival held in the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge.
Monarch butterfly migration patterns
During the summer season, monarch butterflies populate all portions of the U.S. and parts of southern Canada. However, when temperatures begin to drop they migrate south to warmer climates where they will hibernate until the spring.
Most of the monarchs that spend the summer west of the Rocky Mountains simply make the trip straight down to Southern California, while those that are on the eastern side of the Rockies head down to central and southern Mexico. For the monarchs located on the eastern seaboard, this means a long trip of approximately 2,500 miles, much of which passes along the Gulf coast or directly across the Gulf of Mexico itself.
The St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge Monarch Butterfly Festival
Because of the nature of their route, large numbers of monarchs traverse the Florida panhandle during the fall, including Wakulla County. Locals often know that autumn has arrived when they begin to see the majestic orange insects arrive in droves.
In celebration of this spectacle of nature, the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge organizes an annual Monarch Butterfly Festival where spectators can view the migration up-close-and-personal. This year’s festival will be held on Saturday, October 28 from 10:00 AM until 4:00 PM. In addition to wildlife viewing opportunities there will educational demonstrations, wildlife exhibitions, and other entertainment throughout the day. Admission to the festival is free, and those who are interested in volunteer opportunities should contact Lori Nicholson or Robin Will at the Refuge (850-925-6121).
Volunteer monarch tagging opportunity
Another opportunity for those who can’t wait to see the monarch butterflies in their element is the annual counting and tagging project held by the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge. This project is set to begin on Saturday, October 14 and will continue every Saturday through November 25.
The tagging begins early in the morning before dawn, so you are advised to bring a headlamp or flashlight in order to see in the dark. No previous tagging experience is required to participate, so volunteers are welcome to arrive at the gates of the refuge at 6:00 AM on any of the Saturdays, or come and go as they please. Most tagging sessions last between 1.5 and three hours, depending on the number of monarchs in the area.
Also, please note that you are asked to not use bug spray if you want to handle the monarchs, and it is recommended you bring footwear that you don’t mind getting wet. This is a tremendous opportunity for anyone who appreciates the beauty of nature. Email David Cook at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information, or if you’d like to be a part of this incredible project.