By Christina Harkleroad, coordinator,
Dani’s Dreams Outdoor Education Center
With Monarch Migration reaching a peak, and the success of our recent Butterflies UPCLOSE event, this week in our Dani’s Dream Outdoor Education column, we will be exploring butterflies. How do they live? What do they eat? How are they born? All these questions and more will be answered.
Monarch butterflies are found all across America. Monarchs spend their winter months in Mexico, but during the summer, they fly to America and even Canada. They can fly thousands of miles to make it to their summer homes. Not sure what monarch butterflies look like? They have black and orange wings and usually have a wing span of 3 ½- 4 inches. Their bodies are black and they have 2 black antennas on their heads. Males have a large black spot on their hind wings and females do not. Monarchs normally eat flower nectar for food. Milkweed flowers, clovers, thistles, goldenrods, ironweed, and sunflowers are all popular foods for monarchs.
Unfortunately, monarchs have a short life-span and live between 3-5 weeks on average. Because their lifespan is short, they must have multiple generations during the summer. By the end of the summer, the last generation must fly to Mexico for their over-wintering period. Monarchs flying north in the spring to the United States will find a mate. As they reach the U.S., the females will look for milkweed to lay their eggs. They eggs hatch after approximately 4 days and over a 2 week period, the caterpillars grow. Once they grow large enough, the caterpillars create a chrysalis or a cocoon and being the process of metamorphosis. The chrysalis is green with yellow spots and it provides protection for the caterpillar. After 2 more weeks, the butterfly emerges from the chrysalis. This process continues until it is time for the butterflies to fly back to Mexico.
Right now the Monarchs are just heading into Texas and a few are crossing the border into Mexico. Track this year’s migration on Monarch Watch.
For a fun story to read and learn more about the Monarch Life Cycle, click on “The Adventures of Ralph Sean Green” on our home page.
In the next column, we will be exploring ways other countries are becoming environmentally-friendly.