The Marvelous Monarch

We recently visited the Butterfly Palace in Branson, MO with our granddaughter. My granddaughter greatly enjoyed the amphibian room with its creepy, crawly things. I find frogs, lizards and bugs fascinating but the butterflies are my main attractions. We loved feeding them and the release of new butterflies by children.

The visit renewed my interest in Monarchs. These beautiful creatures, so much a part of my childhood, are endangered. Urban sprawl, pesticides and mostly loss of milkweed has lowered their numbers remarkably.

photo by Alex Guillaume

Monarchs are dependent on milkweed to lay their eggs, usually one egg on a leaf. If mistakenly laid on similar looking plants, the hatched larva will die. Surprisingly, milkweed is highly toxic, but this is a good thing for the Monarchs. The poison enters into the caterpillar and stays there through adulthood. The poison in their system makes the Monarchs toxic to predators.

In metamorphoses the Monarch caterpillar molts its skin five times. Four of those times it stays a caterpillar and true to a caterpillars voracious appetite, it will eat its own skin. While in this process the caterpillar is called an instar. The fifth time it forms a chrysalis and begins the process of becoming a butterfly.

photo by Julie North

Adult male Monarchs have a small black spot on the inside hind wings. Their wings are larger and their bodies heavier. The female wings are thicker which helps in migration. Monarchs are a curious creation of God. Their tongue or proboscis draws up nectar like a straw. They smell with their antenna and taste with hairs on their legs and feet. They also do not possess lungs. Small vents in the thorax and tubes called trachea move oxygen through the body.

photo by Kathy Servian

Monarchs normally live from two to six weeks. But the migrating Monarchs are considered super butterflies and live up to eight months. During migration they depend on food consumed in the caterpillar stage. In the Spring they leave the southern forests of Mexico and California. They travel one hundred miles a day and journey two to three thousand miles one way, many arriving in Canada.

I hope you’ll join me. I have planted milkweed to help support the Monarch population. Many greenhouses now carry the plant and it does have a sweet blossom.