Helping Monarch Butterflies at Home

Many of you know that the Houston Zoo staff works on many conservation projects in the field.  Our staff travels to Africa, Panama, Galapagos Islands and more to help save animals in the wild.  Recently, two of our staff members, Rodney Honerkamp and I, went on a different kind of conservation trip.  A monarch conservation visit right in our area!

Demi and one of her beautiful Monarchs
Demi and one of her beautiful Monarchs

We were privileged to go to the home of Houston Zoo Asante Society members, Ron and Demi Rand in Pearland.  Demi raises and rescues monarch butterflies and has all stages of their life cycle from egg to adult.  A lot of her time is spent tending to the many plants in her gardens that feed the butterflies and bees that visit her yard.  Her gardens have two types of milkweed, among other pollinator host plants, and have attracted at least six different types of butterflies, multiple species of bees and even moths at night.

Monarch eggs ready to hatch
Monarch eggs ready to hatch

 

 

 

 

 

Why is the work Demi does for monarchs so important?  Butterflies, along with bees,

bats and other animals, are pollinators.  A huge percentage of all the food we eat, the cotton used to make our clothes, even coffee and chocolate rely on pollinators.  Without pollinators we would lose all those things and more.  This year alone Demi has tagged and released over 1,000 butterflies.  The tags are

a small sticker placed on the wing and the information on the sticker is sent to Monarch Watch.

Recently, Houston Zoo staff and volunteers took part in field work on grounds tagging monarchs.  They tagged 23 monarchs this season!  That means there are 23 more monarchs that can be tracked on their 3,000 mile migration to Mexico.

Monarch caterpillar ready for a close up
Monarch caterpillar ready for a close up

Monarch Watch is a non-profit, education, conservation and research program based at the University of Kansas.  They have information on tagging monarchs along with biology and rearing.  They provide information about gardening for monarchs and conduct research projects on things like larval monitoring and monarch flight vectors.

There are several other resources you can use to learn more.  In addition to Monarch Watch, check out TVbutterfly.org to learn about a monarch way station that one of Demi’s “Monarch Sisters”, Dr. Amy Harkins has built at the Tuscany Village Skilled Nursing and Rehabilitation in Pearland, TX.  Monarch Gateway  monarchgateway.org and the International Butterfly Breeders Association butterflybreeders.org are also great sites.

Facebook has some groups dedicated to monarchs also like the group The Beautiful Monarch.

Sometimes, you pick up a hitchhiker
Sometimes, you pick up a hitchhiker

The day we went to visit Demi and Ron, we were able to watch as 11 Monarchs were tagged and released.  This was the reward after weeks of hard work for Demi.  She collects eggs she finds on her milkweed and rinses them in a 5% bleach solution to combat the OE parasite (Ophryocystis elektroscirrha) that has been attacking monarchs.  This parasite does the most damage in the pupal stage.

Pollinator garden information
Pollinator garden information

The affected butterflies can have difficulty emerging or fall to the ground before they fully expand their wings. It takes 4-5 days for the eggs to hatch and then she needs to be sure the caterpillars have plenty of milkweed to eat.  The caterpillars will eat voraciously for 2 to 3 weeks then they will pupate into their chrysalis.  Demi monitors the chrysalis closely over the 7 to 10 days it takes for the butterfly to emerge.  Once they emerge they live in a protected enclosure until they are dry and their wings are fully stretched out.  At that point she is able to tag them and release them.  If any emerge with issues that prevent them from flying, she has a special enclosure for those butterflies so they will have nectar readily available.

 

Dr. Amy recording the information from the tags
Dr. Amy recording the information from the tags

How can you help?  Plant your own pollinator garden!  You can even work towards having it registered with Monarch Watch as a monarch way station.  It will be a place for the migrating monarchs to stop and refuel on their journey south. If you don’t know what to plant, just stop by our conservation stage at the zoo.  It is to your right as you come in.  You will find signage about native plants to attract butterflies.  Simply take a picture of the sign and take it with you to the nursery where you buy your plants.

This Monarch has its tag and is ready to go
This Monarch has its tag and is ready to go

You can also get involved at the Houston Zoo.  Take a picture of your pollinator garden at home and bring the pictures to the Naturally Wild Swap Shop.  You will be registered as a Pollinator Pal and receive points to spend in the shop.  Also, be on the lookout for pollinators on zoo grounds.  If you get a picture of a pollinator on grounds you can also bring that to the Swap Shop for points and be registered as a

Pollinator Pal.  Show the Naturalist in the shop the picture and tell them which of the zoo’s gardens you saw it in.  Don’t know about the Naturally Wild Swap Shop?  Click here for more information.



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This morning, we humanely euthanized our male, 20-year-old jaguar, Kan Balam. Due to the tremendous care provided to him by his keepers and our veterinary team, Kan Balam lived well beyond his expected lifespan. Jaguars expected lifespan in the wild is between 12-15 years.

The carnivore staff and veterinary team made the decision after his quality of life began to decline. Quality care and continuous advances in veterinary medicine extends animals’ lives longer than ever, with most felines in human care living well beyond previous generations. Because of this, all cats, including domestic house cats and jaguars, often spend a significant phase of their lives as older animals, and are at a higher risk for geriatric complications.

Read more about Kan B, and the love his keepers had for him on our blog: www.houstonzoo.org/blog/mourning-loss-geriatric-jaguar-kan-balam/
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This morning, we humanely euthanized our male, 20-year-old jaguar, Kan Balam.  Due to the tremendous care provided to him by his keepers and our veterinary team, Kan Balam lived well beyond his expected lifespan. Jaguars expected lifespan in the wild is between 12-15 years. 
 
The carnivore staff and veterinary team made the decision after his quality of life began to decline. Quality care and continuous advances in veterinary medicine extends animals’ lives longer than ever, with most felines in human care living well beyond previous generations. Because of this, all cats, including domestic house cats and jaguars, often spend a significant phase of their lives as older animals, and are at a higher risk for geriatric complications.

Read more about Kan B, and the love his keepers had for him on our blog: https://www.houstonzoo.org/blog/mourning-loss-geriatric-jaguar-kan-balam/

 

Comment on Facebook

Soft kitty, warm kitty, little ball of fur; happy kitty, sleepy kitty, purr purr purr #RIP #bigbangtheory

I know he lived a lot longer due to the excellent care he got at the Zoo.

Aww. When interning in the carnivore dept he was one of my faves. So smart! Ashley remember when Angie was teaching him to do the moonwalk after Michael Jackson passed?

So sorry for the loss of this beautiful creature. Kan Balam.

Is this the one that had the limp?

Thank you Houston Zoo for taking such good care of him and all the animals! I've been going to this zoo since I was little bitty. I always enjoy it.

RIP Kan Balam. You have given the visitors so much pleasure just watching you over these years. You were taken care of by top notch professional handlers, etc.

So sorry for your loss. He was a brilliant cat and he is at peace now and free.

So sorry they had to go through this, a decision that is emotional and difficult, and necessary.

Thank you to you and your staff for the years of quality care given this magnificant creature.

Sending my love to Kan Balam's keepers ❤️ This is the hardest part of our jobs 💔

We just saw Kan Balam on Monday😔.... he will be missed❤️

I am so sorry for your loss, each of these animals are precious ....

This was my daughters favorite critter at the Zoo. We always went to say hello to him before anyone else whenever we went. When she was 7 years old we sent a post out to out neighborhood on Halloween saying Paisley was asking for pocket change donations in lieu of candy for Halloween and all amounts would be donated to Kan thru the zoo. She raised over $40 in coins! I still have the letter from the zoo thanking her for her donation. He was a sweet boy and will be missed. 😔

Hugs to all of you keepers that took special care of Kan Balam.

Awe, I’m so sad to hear his quality of life was declining. But, I’m happy to know he had a long and wonderful life thanks to the wonderful teams at the Houston Zoo. He was a beautiful cat.

I'm so sorry for your loss. Thanks for taking such great care of him so he was able to live a long life. My thoughts are with his keepers and all who adored him. <3

Heartfelt condolences to the veterinary and keeper staff. Thank you for taking care of him

Katie Rose Buckley-Jones I won’t ever forget the time you asked him to bring something and he ripped off a piece of cardboard and tried to hand it to you ❤️ thank you for introducing me to him. Sending you guys many hugs

The Houston Zoo staff has lost several animals this year and I am sure each one is so hard to go through.

Thank you for providing him with a caring and enriched life. So sorry for your loss!

My thoughts of sympathy are with you all. I can't even imagine the sadness you feel today.

So sorry to read this. It is always a hard decision. RIP and run free sweet boy.

I’m so sorry for your loss. He was a beautiful cat.

So sad. Native Houstonian. He was one of my favorites.

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Social Media Guy to Sea Lion Keeper: Can you send me a pic of you working with the sea lions in this chilly weather?

Sea Lion Keeper: Sure... (sends picture next to sea lion statue)

SMG: I'm still using this.
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Social Media Guy to Sea Lion Keeper: Can you send me a pic of you working with the sea lions in this chilly weather?

Sea Lion Keeper: Sure... (sends picture next to sea lion statue)

SMG: Im still using this.

 

Comment on Facebook

Are there some zoo animals that enjoy this weather?

SMG is another reason why Houston Zoo is the best Zoo!

Happy New Year “sea lion keeper “ 💖💖

More snow for TJ and Max ❤️ lucky them!

Are we positive that’s the statue rather than it really just being that cold? 😛

That’s my best friend Sophie for ya! 😂

Brrrrr

Omg the Zoo is so awesome 😂😂😂 Alana Berry

Omg be warm sweetoe

Haha!! Good one!

Sweetie 💞

Ashley Jucker 😂

Mike DePope

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We've heard of stalagmites but is stalagmice a thing? ... See MoreSee Less

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Weve heard of stalagmites but is stalagmice a thing?

 

Comment on Facebook

Ok, it took me a minute to get this. I was literally zooming in to try to find the mouse. 🤦🏻‍♀️🙄😂

Cindy Christina Angela Ramirez see I told y’all! Lol

Andrew Kaufmann Look its Richard Jr! 😂

Wow ... good photo shot ... show the world that you need to protect your pipe ... if not, freezing water will expand the pipe and crack the pipe !!!

“Baby it’s cold outside!”

My gutters had glaciers in them!

I fell for the mouse thing too..

That's nothing! Talk to keepers from the northern states or Canada!

i was honestly looking for a mouse lol

Wow,that is so neat!

Annecia Wesley but where is the ice bacon? Lol

Johnnie R. Summerlin, cool, see the "stalagm ice"?

Two words. Pipe insulation.

That’s awesome!

Ana Rivers Smith cool!

Cortez

Pauline Ervin

Denise Daigre

Ashley Nguyen

Vicente Gonzalez

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