• Sunday, September 06th, 2009

IMG_0196The monarch butterfly is probably one of the most recognizable insects, but many people are unaware of a mysterious life they lead at the end of the summer.
For its size, no other insect, bird or mammal migrates like this butterfly. A North American monarch can travel up to 80 miles a day, totaling nearly 3000 miles over the course of 2 months.
Monarchs caterpillars hatch from an egg laid on their host plant, milkweed and proceed to eat the leaves, absorbing the toxins within the plant. These toxins persist in the caterpillar’s body and are transferred to the adult butterfly. Depending on where the caterpillar is from, there may be as many as 3 broods or generations in a season.

After going through a series of molts, the caterpillar sheds its skin for the last time into a chrysalis.
The butterflies that emerge in the fall are biologically and behaviorally different from those that emerged earlier in the season. They are called the Methuselah generation and live 7-8 months instead of the normal 4-5 weeks. In human terms, that is equivalent to having your children live to be 525 years old!

IMG_5413The Methuselah generation don’t mate right away, but begin their trek south to the mountains of central Mexico, feeding on nectar plants along the way. Arriving between mid October and early November, these monarchs will hibernate en masse until mid February.
As temperatures rise and humidity falls, they wake, mate and begin to travel north again laying eggs on milkweed along the way.
Those that return to Mexico the following year will be the great, great, great grandchildren of those that left the previous year.

Category: Insects, Seasons
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