The Mighty Monarch

Monarch butterflies are a personal favorite of mine. I especially love their colors. I like the yellow, black, and white stripes of the caterpillar and I love the orange and black of the butterfly. The green chrysalis is pretty cool, too. But the thing I like most of all about them is the amazing journey that they take. Since I find it so interesting, I thought I would write a special post dedicated to the king of the butterflies. Maybe you will find it interesting too.

At the end of winter and very early spring (February and March), Monarchs come out of hibernation in their warm climates to look for a mate. Then they migrate north to find a place to lay their eggs. Monarchs prefer milkweed plants, which grow in much cooler environments in the spring and fall. They have to get the eggs where there is a ready food supply for the larvae.

These eggs hatch in the spring, sometime between March and April. The caterpillars will eat the milkweed leaves for about two weeks. During this time, they grow and grow. They start out quite tiny and grow to about two inches long. Once they have reached their full size, the caterpillar will look for a place to turn into a pupa. Usually, they will find a stem or a leaf and hang upside down from it. It will transform itself from a striped caterpillar into a green chrysalis. I think it is green mostly to blend in with its surroundings so that it can remain undisturbed while it undergoes some big changes.After about ten days, the butterfly emerges from the chrysalis. These butterflies will fly away to find a mate, feeding on the nectar of flowers and pollinating gardens as they go along. These particular butterflies will live about two to six weeks, which is pretty long for a butterfly but not as long as later Monarchs! They will lay eggs for the next group of butterflies.

This next generation of butterflies is usually born in May and June. Their cycle is similar to that of the ones born in early spring. This group of butterflies will lay their eggs toward the end of June and in July so that the next wave of Monarchs can hatch around July/August. These Monarchs will also follow the same path, going through the same stages, but this time they do their egg laying in late summer.

It is this last round of Monarchs that are different from the rest. Because they are born in early fall (typically September or October), they actually migrate once they become butterflies. They will fly to warmer climates like California or Mexico. Usually, they go to whichever warm locale is closer. They live much longer than those who came before them, too, surviving as long as six to eight months! These butterflies will hibernate on trees. Although it is a completely different group of butterflies who make the trip every year, they tend to pick the same trees to hibernate on. They will remain in hibernation again until it is time to head back east, where the milkweed plants are growing once again.

And that is the busy life of one of the coolest butterflies around, the Monarch!

Fun Facts about Butterflies

Butterflies are some of the most interesting insects around. Here are some fun facts that I have learned over the years about them:

  • Butterflies have very cool eyes.They can see in a mosaic type of view around them. They can see red, green, and yellow. They are also very good at sensing light and dark, which is helpful when trying to avoid prey. They can sense a shadow and get out of the way! They also see each other in a UV pattern that is invisible to humans. It helps them choose a mate.
  • Female butterflies are capable of recognizing plants by their leafshape and color. This helps them when they are laying eggs so that they can provide a good location for their babies to find food. This will give their caterpillars a larger chance for survival.
  • Because they are insects, butterflies have three pairs of legs. You often have to look closely near the front of their bodies to see the first pair of legs. Some species have developed these legs so that they are very tiny and useless as legs, but they are still there.
  • Butterflies can feel vibrations in their legs. This acts as an early warning system if animals or birds are approaching. Most will fly away, but some have markings on their wings that look like eyes that they will display if they feel threatened. These markings trick predators into thinking that the butterfly is something else and is much larger.
  • Many types of butterflies can taste with their feet. This is another way they can make sure they lay their eggs on the right plant.
  • Butterflies use their antennae for a few reasons. They can detect scent. The males can use them to find the pheromones in potential mates. They can also use their antennae to find nectar. Butterflies also put their antennae onto soil or leaves. This helps them detect the minerals in the ground. The males need sodium, which they will then pass on to the females. They may be able to use antennae to communicate with other butterflies.
  • The tongue of the butterfly is called a proboscis. It looks like a long, curled-up straw that they can unravel and ravel up again. It is actually made up of two channels that link together to form a tube. Drinking from flowers and fruits can be sticky, so the butterfly can actually separate the sections and clean them!
  • Most butterflies will drink nectar from flowers or fruit. However, there are some butterflies in more tropical climates that will actually drink from carrion—the bodies of dead insects or animals.
  • Sometimes you can spot butterflies drinking at the edges of rain puddles. They get minerals this way. They can also drink from urine puddles or even dung.

Every fact that I have learned about butterflies has made them even more fascinating to me and I will continue to find out cool things about them to share on this blog! If you know any other facts about butterflies that you would like to share, let me know!