Common Name: Monarch Butterfly.
Scientific Name: Danaus Plexippus.
What to look for? Monarch Butterflies are large, beautifully colored butterflies. You will recognize them. They have those striking orange, black, and white markings. Their bright orange wings are covered with black veins and rimmed with a black border and white dots. The underside of their wings is a paler orange. Females have thicker veins in their wings. Another difference is that male monarchs have two black spots in the center of their hind wings, which females lack. These spots are scent glands that help males attract female mates.
Where can they be found at Carillon Stonegate Pond? Monarch Butterflies are quite common and very easy to spot. They are present from April through October, but more active in summer. They will frequent the milkweed around our pond shoreline. And look for them around your flower garden, ground cover and wildflowers around our walking paths. We participate in the University of Kansas's Monarch Watch program
How big are they? The wingspan of the Monarch Butterfly averages approximately four to five inches.
What are their flight patterns? The Monarch Butterfly has a very gracing flight style as it moves from plant to plant. Monarchs flap their wings about 5 to 12 times a second, which is about 300 to 720 times a minute.
How else do they behave? The Monarch Butterfly has a short lifespan and its behaviors center on those necessary for the species to survive: fly, eat, and mate.
What’s for dinner? Like all butterflies, Monarchs have a different diet during their larval caterpillar phase than they do as winged adults. As caterpillars, monarchs feed exclusively on the leaves of milkweed. Milkweed produces glycoside toxins to deter animals from eating them. Monarch caterpillars, who have developed an immunity to these toxins, store up the toxins in their body as they feed. This makes them taste bad, which deters their predators. As adults, Monarchs feed on nectar from a wide range of blooming native plants, including milkweed, clover, and goldenrod. Early in the season before milkweeds bloom, Monarchs visit a variety of flowers including dogbane, lilac, red clover, lantana, and thistles. In the fall, adults visit goldenrods, blazing stars, ironweed, and tickseed sunflower.
Where do they take up residence? They are nearly everywhere! Monarch Butterflies live in North, Central, and South America as well as Australia, some Pacific Islands, India, and Western Europe. In the spring and summer stay here at Carillon Stonegate Pond, the monarch butterfly's habitat is open fields and meadows with milkweed.
When and where do they breed and nest? Remember the lifecycle of a butterfly: (1) eggs, (2) larval state as caterpillar, (3) pupa state in chrysalis or cocoon, and (4) butterfly. The lifespan of an adult butterfly is only about eight months. Toward the end of winter, the Monarch Butterflies in Mexico and California will mate. The males then die, while the females head north, depositing eggs on milkweed plants along the way before eventually dying themselves. From these tiny, round eggs come small green-and-white-striped caterpillars, which feed on the milkweed leaves. For about two weeks, they eat constantly and grow by shedding their skin. They are then ready to transform into pupae. To become a pupa or chrysalis, a monarch larva attaches itself with silk to a leaf or branch, sheds its skin, and forms a hard shell. This vase-shaped case is sea-foam green with tiny yellow spots along its edge. After about two weeks, the caterpillar completes its metamorphosis and a fully formed Monarch Butterfly emerges.
Where do they migrate? Only Monarch Butterflies born in late summer or early fall will participate in the migration - and they make only one round trip. By the time next year's winter migration begins, several generations will have lived and died during the summer. It will be the great grandchildren of last year's migrators that make this trip. Scientists are not certain how migrating monarchs know which way to go, since they only live a few months and none makes the journey more than once. Yet somehow these new generations know the way.
What is their conservation status? There is concern. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is currently reviewing the status of the Monarch Butterfly (listing decision target date is December 2020). Since the 1990s, their population has declined by approximately 90 percent. Monarchs face habitat loss in the United States and Mexico, danger from pesticides and impact of climate change on the timing of migration. For example, over 90 percent of the grassland ecosystems along the eastern monarch’s central migratory flyway corridor have been lost, converted to intensive agriculture or urban development.
Do they make any interesting sounds? No.
Interesting Facts About the Monarch Butterfly:
Monarch Butterflies are known for the incredible mass migration that brings millions of them to California and Mexico each winter.
Adult Monarchs make massive migrations from August-October, flying up to 3,000 miles south to hibernate along the California coast and in central Mexico.
At the Mexico wintering sites, butterflies roost in trees and form huge groups that may have millions of individuals.
Monarchs become toxic to birds by feeding on milkweed plants.
For more information on the Monarch Butterfly and sources of information used in this blog (these are the sources that I am using to learn as I blog), please visit Butterflies and Moths of North America, Monarch Butterfly, National Geographic, National Wildlife Federation and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The Carillon at Stonegate community is very fortunate to have a variety of wetland, forest and prairie environments conducive to a variety of birds and other wildlife, insects and plants. Our community and the Kane County Forest Preserve do an exceptional job in maintaining this natural environment – both for the benefit of the birds and wildlife and for our residents to enjoy.
Take a hike and see what you can find – and identify!