Photo by Maj. Jason Meckel A Monarch butterfly emerging from the foliage of the AFPMB Waystation. The Monarch butterfly is the US national insect, and a symbol of North American conservation efforts.
By Lt. Col. Terry Carpenter
Special Projects Officer, AFPMB
The Armed Forces Pest Management Board, an office of the Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Installations and Environment with offices on Fort Detrick's Forest Glen Annex, recently celebrated the certification of their Monarch butterfly Waystation.
Each fall, millions of Monarch butterflies migrate from the United States and Canada to northern Mexico and southern California where they hibernate until conditions favor a return flight in the spring. One of the world's greatest natural wonders, the migration is threatened by habitat loss in North America. Urban development, roadside management techniques, and genetically modified crops are reducing the native habitat of monarchs, threatening their numbers, and their ability to migrate.
To offset the loss, Monarch Waystations provide food necessary for monarch butterflies to produce successive generations and sustain their annual migration, which takes them from northern Mexico to southern Canada and back again each year, through three to four generations along the way.
Waystations provide milkweed plants, which are the essential food source for Monarch caterpillars, and nectar-producing flowers to fuel the adult butterflies' journey. In addition, the Waystation provides a pesticide-free, protected place where the monarchs can rest, feed, mate, and breed in peace. By creating the Waystation, the AFPMB contributes to Monarch conservation, helping ensure the preservation of the species and its spectacular seasonal migration.
The AFPMB's Waystation has been attracting Monarchs for several years - it was started in 2003 by Lt. Col. Dwight Rickard and Lt. Col. Terry Carpenter, in a space between a sidewalk and a building that had required repeated mowing, weeding, fertilizing, and edging to keep it Army trim. Now anchored by two mature butterfly bushes, the 42 feet long, six feet wide space is filled with flowering perennials and annuals selected for their hardiness to keep weeding and watering to a minimum, in addition to their nectar-producing capabilities; no pesticides of any sort are needed.Monarchs and other butterflies and nectar-feeders quickly found the new oasis and became frequent visitors.
This year, the AFPMB staff planted four different kinds of milkweed, and within weeks caterpillars were busily munching their leaves. The first butterflies were observed in July, and by late August caterpillars were beginning to enter the chrysalis stage. The first adult butterfly to be observed emerging was on September 8. As their migration season continues through late October, many more are sure to be seen.Captain Stanton Cope, Director of the AFPMB, noted that the Waystation is literally a Joint effort by his staff of Army, Navy, Air Force and civilian entomologists who share an interest in planting, nurturing, and enjoying the plants and their visitors.
"If I had to single out any one person, it would be Maj. Jason Meckel, who took an especially enthusiastic interest in the Waystation and has put a lot of his off-duty time into nurturing the bed and personally putting in plants to keep it flowering all year long," Cope said.
The Waystation has drawn interest from passersby on their way to adjacent Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, as an example of environmental conservation that has broad benefits to native species, in addition to providing beauty and pleasure for the garrison's people.
The AFPMB Waystation also provides food and shelter to other native pollinators, including sulphur and skipper butterflies, moths, solitary and honey bees, and syrphid flies, as well as hummingbirds and other birds who visit the flowers or shelter in the plants. For more information about Monarch Waystations, visit the MonarchWatch website.