CRITTER SPOTLIGHT: Monarch Butterfly: Danaus plexippus
Good Morning Watershed Explorers,
Today's critter spotlight is about the monarch butterfly. In a past post, I talked about my family's experience raising a monarch caterpillar. The photo below is of the butterfly that emerged after just a week. It was a truly magical experience for both of my girls to see their sweet caterpillar create its chrysalis and soon emerge as a magnificent monarch butterfly.
Monarch butterflies do something particularly amazing that no other insect is known to do, they migrate almost 3,000 miles. Monarchs will travel from an area that gets cold in the winter like Rhode Island, and head to the West Coast of California, or the mountains of Central Mexico. There they will have food to eat and warmth. It is thought that butterflies from this area will actually travel to the same site in Mexico every year, this is particularly amazing because these this year's butterflies have never been to the site in Mexico before.
Monarch butterfly populations have been said to have decreased by 53% this year. This is due in large part because of habitat loss, but other factors include climate change, pesticide use, prolonged drought. The positive news is that there are people that are looking out for monarchs. Check out this website to find out what scientists and dedicated volunteers are doing to keep monarchs safe! https://www.saveourmonarchs.org/
Monarch butterflies are found in all parts of North America. They are separated into two populations, those that are East of the Rocky Mountains which are the Eastern monarchs and those that are West of the Rocky Mountains which are Western monarchs. Their presence is largely based on whether suitable feeding, breeding, and overwintering sites exist.
Monarch caterpillars feed on milkweed leaves. Milkweed produces glycoside toxins that monarch caterpillars are immune to. While eating the milkweed monarch caterpillars store the toxins in their body and it makes them taste terrible to predators, a fantastic adaptation!
Monarch butterflies feed on nectar from a wide range of native plants, including milkweed.
Monarchs have a very important watershed role, they are not as excellent as bees at pollinating, but they are pollinators. While sipping nectar from flowers, they do collect some pollen on their legs and transfer it from plant to plant. Monarchs, although poor tasting to some are an important food source for many creatures, including birds.
If you are interested in learning more about monarchs, check out the national geographic link below which features some great pictures as well. https://kids.nationalgeographic.com/animals/invertebrates/insects/monarch-butterfly/
I am also attaching a great milkweed resource for you and your families. This explains all about milkweed and has some great photos of monarch transformation!
As always, happy exploring my friends. I hope that you will email me and share some of your exploration stories. I would love to post them in a future blog.