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!