I planted my first milkweed in the spring of 2013. This particular milkweed is called asclepias curassavica (also known as tropical milkweed, scarlet milkweed, bloodflower, or silkweed).
Since then, each year more and more Monarch butterflies come to lay their eggs and a multitude more eclose each subsequent year and head south for the winter.
Some arrive in my garden quite tattered after a long and difficult journey.
Please read my previous posts to learn more about why Monarch butterflies need our help:
They Are Here and Here Come My Monarchs
Life Cycle of the Monarch Butterfly
It's very easy to distinguish between a male and a female monarch. The male (bottom left) has two highly visible black spots on his hind wings, while the female (bottom right) doesn't. The male also has thinner wing veins (black webbing) than the female.
Female monarchs will only lay their eggs on milkweed plants, because that is the only food source that the caterpillars can eat. They usually lay a single egg on a plant, often on the underside of a leaf.
Eggs & Caterpillars at Various Stages
The eggs hatch about four days after they are laid.
The caterpillar (larva) stage will last about 10-14 days. During this period, they are ferocious eaters. As the caterpillars get too large for their skin, they molt (shed their skin). The interval between molts is called an instar. Monarchs go through five instars.
Caterpillars at various stages of growth.
The caterpillar below on the left is getting in position (hanging upside down, forming the letter "J") to enter the pupa stage. The one on the right is entering the pupa stage. It's shedding its old skin one last time as the green shell emerges.
The transformation is now complete. This green shell is soft at first but then slowly hardens to protect the butterfly as it goes through its last phase of metamorphosis.
Beautiful jewel-like designs slowly emerge
on the hard shiny green chrysalis.
This pupa stage can last as long as two weeks. Before the butterfly ecloses, the chrysalis turns transparent. You can see this butterfly's wings through the chrysalis below.
The butterfly below just eclosed a short while before I took this photo. (I wished I could see her eclose!). A newly emerged butterfly must wait two or more hours before it can fly. The new wings are small and shriveled. She pumps body fluid through her wing veins to make her wings bigger. She then waits for air to replace some of the fluid before she can fly.
This newly emerged butterfly is waiting for her wings to get stronger before she can fly with ease.
According to Monarch Watch (a nonprofit education, conservation, and research program based at the University of Kansas that focuses on the monarch butterfly, its habitat, and its fall migration): "In all the world, no butterflies migrate like the Monarchs of North America. They travel much farther than all other tropical butterflies, up to three thousand miles. They are the only butterflies to make such a long, two way migration every year. Amazingly, they fly in masses to the same winter roosts, often to the exact same trees. Their migration is more the type we expect from birds or whales. However, unlike birds and whales, individuals only make the round-trip once. It is their children's grandchildren that return south the following fall." (source: http://monarchwatch.org/tagmig/index.htm)
Scientists have been collecting data to learn more about the Monarch butterflies in an effort to save them. According to the Monarch Watch "[m]any questions remain unanswered about the fall migration of the monarch population east of the Rocky Mountains. How do the monarchs move across the continent, i.e., do they move in specific directions or take certain pathways? How is the migration influenced by the weather and are there differences in the migration from year to year?" (source: http://monarchwatch.org/tagmig/tag.htm)
Monarch Watch needs data to answer these questions and one way we can help is to participate in their tagging program. Through tagging, scientists will be able to obtain sufficient recoveries and observations of the migration to answer these questions.
This is my first tagged butterfly. I hope she makes it to her overwintering site.
Unfortunately, many monarchs won't reach their overwintering sites. If you recover a dead monarch with a tag similar to the one below, please call the number on the tag and report your recovery. A great newsletter to subscribe to is Texas Butterfly Ranch. (Click here). Read its October 4th issue for an example of how much information a little tag like the one below can provide scientists. (Click here).
If you are interested in learning more about or in helping the Monarch butterflies, two good sources to start with are monarchwatch.org (click here) and learner.org (click here).
Monarch butterflies need your help!
Please consider lending scientists a hand.
Thank you, Christa
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