The majestic monarch butterfly is easy to spot with its orange, black, and white markings. Every fall, northern monarchs make an incredible journey to warmer weather in Southern California and Central Mexico. This 3,000-mile migration is a sight to behold. Unfortunately, the migration is a threatened phenomenon due to climate change and habitat loss. Here are some additional facts about this exceptional creature.
- Although beautiful, their coloring actually sends a warning to predators that they are poisonous. The monarchs get their toxins from the milkweed plant.
- Milkweed is the only thing the monarch larvae (caterpillar) will eat.
- During their migration, the monarchs return to the same forests each year, sometimes even the same trees their ancestors landed on. It is estimated that almost a billion butterflies make the trek each year.
- The male dies after mating with the female monarchs near the end of winter. Then the female heads north to deposit eggs on milkweed plants and eventually dies, too.
- Small white, yellow and black caterpillars come from the tiny, round eggs and feed on the milkweed leaves for about two weeks.
- To become a chrysalis, or pupa, the larva attaches itself to a branch or leaf, sheds its skin, and forms a hard shell. A beautiful butterfly emerges after 9 to 15 days.
- The transformation from egg to butterfly takes about a month. This process is called metamorphosis.
- Adult butterflies drink nectar from flowers such as milkweed, goldenrod, and asters.
- It is believed that the North American monarch has been migrating to the warmer climate of Mexico for thousands of years.
- Logging in Mexico has reduced the forests where butterflies roost. Efforts have been put in place to help protect these areas, but illegal logging still impacts them.
By learning more about the monarch butterfly, we can help save them. Since their host plant is the milkweed, you can plant a milkweed garden in your yard. Not only will you help provide them with food, you will enjoy seeing them. Additionally, consider organic gardening. The use of pesticides kills monarchs and other important insects.
When you see a milkweed patch, check it out for signs of monarch butterfly activity. Let the land owner know that they have important monarch habitat on their land and do your best to protect it. Enjoy. Thanks for teaching the next generation of conservationists.