Bountiful Butterflies at Tommy Thompson Park

By Nicole Czorny

Extending five kilometres into Lake Ontario, Tommy Thompson Park is the first sign of landfall for migrating birds and butterflies. With an abundance of milkweed, golden rod and other native plants, over 55 species of butterfly have been found at the park to date, finding habitat and food in the natural and wild landscape.

Travelling over 3,500 kilometres from Canada to Mexico, and making a pit-stop in Toronto, the incredible journey of the monarch butterfly was celebrated at the 3rd annual Tommy Thompson Park Butterfly Festival.

On August 27, children, families, nature enthusiasts and butterfly lovers gathered at the park to learn about butterfly migration, conservation, and take in the natural scenery of Tommy Thompson Park.

Volunteer lepidopterists, people who study or collect butterflies and moths, lead hikers through wildflower fields, while Toronto and Region Conservation Authority staff took visitors on family nature walks, exploring the diverse wildlife found at the park.

A slithery snake on display at the festival

We arrived early with our rubber boots on and cameras ready. Wasting no time, we checked out the different booths set-up at the entrance,and got our hands dirty making seed balls packed with native plant seeds that attract butterflies, caterpillars and other pollinators. The seeds are mixed with clay and soil that protect the seeds from predators and weather until they germinate. There is no need to dig a hole or water, you just toss the seed ball onto some soil, and watch the wild flowers grow!

At noon we went on our Butterfly Walk and saw red admiral, clouded sulphur and tons of monarch butterflies floating by us along the path. Following our knowledgeable guide, we hiked into the wildflower fields of golden rod, thistles and milkweed, where we saw monarch eggs, caterpillars, and butterflies so small, you could barely see them.

A giant caterpillar our guide spotted in the wildflower field

We stumbled upon a patch of dog-strangling vine, an extremely invasive species from the Milkweed family. This vine has taken over fields and forests in Southern Ontario, literally strangling out native plant species and ruining habitats for butterflies, birds and other animals.

Monarch butterflies lay their eggs on the leaves of plants in the milkweed family, like common milkweed, swamp milkweed and butterfly milkweed. After the eggs hatch, the caterpillar feeds of the acidic “milk” found in the leaf. Itstores the milk throughout its life, making the monarch taste awful to its predators.

Colourful Milkweed bugs

Not only does the dog-strangling vine take over and kill the monarch friendly types of milkweed, the monarch will lay its eggs on the vines leaves. The caterpillar will eventually die, as it can’t feed of the leaves of the dog-strangling vine, which do not contain the right nutrients for the monarchs development.

The best way to ensure monarchs and other breathtaking butterflies return to Ontario and your garden every year, is by planting a native species butterfly garden, like the wildflower fields found at Tommy Thompson Park. Not only will your garden be bursting with butterflies, other pollinators will gladly grace your garden!

Recognized as one of the best areas for green space improvement along the waterfront, Tommy Thompson Park is hopefully a sign of great things to come to Toronto’s waterfront and Port Lands.

With hundreds of congregating, resting and feeding monarchs waiting for favourable winds toward Mexico, Tommy Thompson Park is the perfect place to witness this extraordinary journey take place along Toronto’s waterfront.

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