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Here’s how you can help monarch butterflies migrate

Taconi Head Start students get a close-up view of monarch butterflies in Ocean Springs.
Taconi Head Start students get a close-up view of monarch butterflies in Ocean Springs. ttisbell@sunherald.com

Butterflies are all over the Coast right now, you may have noticed, so why release some more?

The butterflies that the Ocean Springs Garden Club released Tuesday were monarchs.

The club is joining other entities on the Coast — such as Beauvoir, the Pascagoula River Audubon Center and Infinity Science Center — in supporting monarchs by planting and encouraging butterfly gardens. They are also joining other Coast garden clubs in an effort to support the monarch migration — a natural phenomenon that occurs this time of year and is at risk as the number of migrating monarchs has dwindled.

Fairn Whatley and Suzanne Damrich came from Alabama to release about a dozen monarchs with Gulfport Mayor Billy Hewes and Gov. Phil Bryant early Tuesday and then with the Ocean Springs Head Start children to help raise awareness of the annual migration, the plight of the monarch and its dwindling habitat — especially the loss of milkweed plants, where females lay eggs.

The goal is to help create a Monarch Migration Corridor along the Mississippi Coast. Footage was shot for a local trailer for the film “The Mystical Migration of the Monarch Butterfly” by Whatley and Damrich, two passionate butterfly conservators.

In 1997, one billion monarchs made the journey from Mexico through the U.S. to Canada and back, Whatley said.

“In 2013, the number was 60 million,” Whatley said. “Two years ago, it was 33 million.”

Milkweed is the key. That’s what the monarch caterpillars eat. The female lays eggs in milkweed, the eggs become and remain caterpillars for about two weeks, eating all the milkweed they can get their mouths on, then form chrysalises or cocoons, hatch in two weeks and finish the migration to South America.

Ask Mark LaSalle this week. He’s got his hands full trying to find enough to feed a dozen caterpillars someone dropped off at the Audubon Center.

Milkweed just isn’t plentiful along the Coast.

Donald Del Cid, who attended the garden club release at the Mary C. O’Keefe Cultural Center on Tuesday, pointed out “humans have a passion to kill milkweed.”

After all, it’s a weed. But the mindset is changing. And that’s the point of the release, and the movie.

“We hope to educate,” Whatley said. “Exponentially, as you plant milkweed, you help the population.”

Then from 4 to 8 p.m. Oct. 25 at the Mary C., the garden club will host three showings of the movie and a panel discussion.

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