Saturday, August 20, 2011

Monarch Butterflies

These butterflies are a marvel.  Amazingly, they are migratory!  They overwinter in Mexico and southern California, and in February start to migrate north.  They breed and lay eggs in the southern USA.  The progeny from those individuals fly farther north and the process is repeated , with monarchs coming as far north as southern Canada.  In August, they turn around and head south.  The generation that overwinters lives up to seven months, while the others live only 2-3 months.  This is explained much more clearly in Wikipedia at this site.  Please click on the images to see the details.  
Monarch Butterfly nectaring on purple coneflower
This large butterfly feeds mostly on milkweed, Aesclepias spp.
Aesclepias spp., especially this A. tuberosa, have toxins that the Monarchs accumulate in their tissues.
Most butterfly predators are sensitive to the toxins and have learned to avoid these brightly colored butterflies and their equally brightly colored caterpillars.
Look at this impressive wingspan - 4 inches and then some.
This female is trying to find the perfect spot to lay her eggs.
They always lay them on butterfly weed.
You can see the tip of abdomen just starting to curl inward.
Curling even more.
curling so much that she tips forward almost onto her head!
Whatever it takes to squeeze out an egg.
Here she lays one on the bud of butterfly weed florette.
I came back later to get this photo.
And here is an egg laid on a leaf.
With a close up look here you can see  stripes and even the hint of a caterpillar face at the tip of the egg.
A face like this one.
After munching on butterfly weed leaves, they get bigger.
and bigger (double click to see it REALLY BIG!).
Finally they will form a chrysalis, but I have not been fortunate enough to find one.  


We specifically planted the butterfly weed to support these butterflies. It has been such a great pleasure to see and photograph the monarchs at the northern extent of their range.  Butterfly weed has been included in many wildflower projects in these parts of the US, so on this end of the migration, things are pretty good.  Unfortunately, on the southern end where they overwinter, deforestation is putting monarch butterflies at risk.  It thrills my soul each year to see the monarchs arrive and further the species for at least another year; and this year has been a banner year indeed.
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6 comments:

  1. Beautiful images of a beautiful butterfly.

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  2. They really are a stunning butterfly Wilma.
    Excellent captures of them.
    I hope they continue to thrive, despite the wrecking of their wintering grounds.

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  3. Beautiful images very sharp and fantastic detail.

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  4. A lovely series of a beautiful butterfly Wilma. I have seen them several times on nature TV programs but it must be much better to see them for real.

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  5. Wow what a wonderful beast this butterfly.. Wow you got a very beautiful set of pictures of a wonderful butterfly... Well done Wilma!

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  6. Dean - thanks, glad you like them.

    Keith - thanks. They overwinter at specific sites in Mexico where thousands of them cluster together on trees for warmth. They are very susceptible to logging and development.

    Anthony - they are often very cooperative and let you get quite close for photography, and of course the caterpillars are easy to keep up with. ;-)

    John - The colors are so rich that TV and photos don't do them justice. thanks for visiting and commenting.

    Chris - Thank you for your kind comments. They are beauties, aren't they?

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