Migrating monarchs!Through wind and rain, around predators and human obstacles, monarch butterflies fly up to 3000 miles in late summer to their wintering grounds in Mexico and California!
Most butterfly species that live in temperate climates have adapted to freezing winters. Many overwinter as caterpillars or pupa. Some overwinter in the egg stage or as dormant adults in shelters like holes in trees. Monarchs can’t survive the cold, and they make an incredible 1000 to 3000-mile migration to overwinter in a particular forest in Mexico or in coastal California.
The monarch’s journey from south to north and backtakes place over 3 to 4 generations. The summer generations live 2 to 5 weeks. Their role is to reproduce and move the population north. The last generation of the year (gen 3 or 4) is born in late summer and makes the incredible flight to the wintering grounds, and then starts the return journey the next spring. These butterflies live up to 9 months.
Monarchs have a fascinating life cycle, & it depends on milkweed:
The butterflies leave their winter homes in March, mate and lay their tiny eggs under milkweed leaves as they move up to northern Mexico and the southern US. Caterpillars emerge from eggs after 3 to 8 days and begin eating milkweed. The caterpillars go through 4 molts, shedding their skin as they grow. After 9 to 17 days, they form a chrysalis and transform into butterflies that continue the journey north, laying eggs on milkweed along the way. This continues for two more generations.
If generation-3 butterflies emerge early enough, they may raise a fourth generation, but butterflies that emerge in late summer won’t reproduce until the following spring. These late-summer butterflies are the migratory adults that make the incredible flight south between September and early November.
To migrate as a butterflywould be challenging in its own right. Now monarchs are threatened because of logging in Mexico in their winter forest and because of habitat loss throughout the US. This includes loss of their milkweed host plants and nectar plants that are replaced by suburban lawns or destroyed by mowing and herbicides. But our collective action can make a positive difference! Here are some things you can you do to help:
2. Avoid using herbicides and pesticides on your lawn!In addition to harming monarchs, they destroy other insects that provide needed food for birds and that pollinate the foods we humans eat every day.
The amazing monarchs you might be lucky to see this fall are on a journey thousands of miles south that this species must make every year to survive. Let’s do what we can to help them!
Great sources for more information on monarchs:
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