Small but Mighty

It’s that season again! You may be noticing small flashes of orange whiz past as you drive, or wings fluttering outside your living room window.  The monarch butterfly migration is in its earliest stages! All summer long, monarchs have been munching away on their favorite milkweed snack, and growing as fast as ever. Check out the clip below:

It only takes about a month for the Monarch to go through its entire metamorphosis and bring the next generation into the world. These beautiful insects live 2-5 weeks while enjoying the summer season and continuing their genetic line. Incredibly, this cycle can occur about three times throughout the summer! On the fourth generation, however, something spectacular takes place. The Monarch eggs laid in late August and September are destined for something much more magnificent than their three previous generations.

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A chrysalis only moments before it emerged. The orange and black pigmentation is the last stage of development during the pupal stage.

Our fourth generation monarchs are the migrators. We will be seeing these guys as caterpillars and butterflies in the upcoming weeks. These monarchs will develop into physically and behaviorally different insects than their parents and grandparents. Born with an underdeveloped reproductive systems, these little guys were created to channel all of their energy into one thing: flight. Weighing only one half of a gram, these mighty flyers fuel up on nectar for their migration to Mexico for the winter. The 2,000-3,000 mile journey is extremely dangerous and monarchs are at risk from large storm events and lack of feeding and breeding habitat.  Only a small percentage of monarchs will make it to their destination. The lucky survivors arrive in just in time for the Mexican Holiday, Day of the Dead, where it’s believe monarchs are the souls of loved ones that return each year. 

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You can identify this monarch as a female by the lack of black patches on the hind wing.

After taking shelter in the Oyamel Fir forests in the Transvolcanic Mountains of central Mexico, the monarchs begin their journey north in March, now fully mature. During their journey, they will reproduce and eventually die, having lived up to nine times longer than the first three generations. In addition to being an iconic species, the monarchs play a vital role in our ecosystems, supporting plant and wildlife biodiversity. Unfortunately, monarch populations have declined by 90 percent in the last 20 years. We can help by planting milkweed, reducing our pesticide use and spreading the word about these small but mighty butterflies! Over the next several weeks, I’ll be sharing stories about what we’re doing to help with our partners and how you can also help this iconic species.

In the meantime, to learn more about the plight of the monarch and what you can do to help, visit our Save the Monarch page!

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