A monarch’s life is a story of enormous transformation. They start as an egg, and within a few days they emerge as a ravenous caterpillar. After 10-14 days of munching on milkweed leaves, the monarch forms a chrysalis. Over the next two weeks it undergoes a radical reorganization of its tissues, ultimately tearing free from its confinement as an adult monarch butterfly. If it hatched in the summer, it may live for another 2-5 weeks. In early fall, the final generation of monarchs has a special job: to migrate. This special generation may live up to 8 months.

Learn more about monarch butterflies and how you can help them along on their journey.

Butterfly Garden Walk with Chip Taylor

Take a short walk into a butterfly garden with Chip Taylor, the founder of Monarch Watch, and see how simple it is to create a butterfly haven.

A Scientist's New Method

Tagging a fluttering insect that weighs only a few grams can be pretty difficult. That was one of the challenges that Fred and Norah Urquhart had to overcome in their journey to track monarchs.

After spending years trying to figure out a way to successfully tag monarch butterflies – a tedious process because their wings are very delicate and moisture-sensitive – Fred and Norah finally had a breakthrough in 1940. Thanks to a recent innovation that created the sticky material we now use on post-it notes, they created a tag with a similar material that managed to stick. Once they began tagging huge scores of monarchs the two soon realized they were going to need some help.

Fred and Norah founded the very first Insect Migration Association, known today as Monarch Watch, enlisting multitudes of volunteer “citizen scientists” all across North America to tag hundreds of thousands of butterflies and track their migration routes. In 1975, this ultimately helped Dr. Urquhart find out that these monarchs migrated from Canada all the way to the forests of Central Mexico.

Click here for Monarch Watch

The Monarch Migration

Widely recognized as the world’s foremost expert on monarch butterflies, Professor Lincoln Brower of Sweet Briar College came to The Wild Center in August of 2016 to talk about the monarch migration.

The event was made possible by the generous support of AdkAction.org and by Wild Center supporters.

A Truly Marvelous Migration

It takes two to three generations of monarch butterflies to migrate north from Mexico through the U.S. up to Canada. Over time, the monarchs have developed a ‘Super Generation’ to make the longest leg of the journey southward. This ‘Super Generation’ is bigger, lives eight to 10 times longer, and unlike other generations does not mate during the journey.

Monarchs stay in Mexico over the winter to rest and after several months make the first part of their journey back to the U.S. and Canada. By the time they get to Texas, they lay eggs and die, thus starting this amazing cycle again. Scientists have not been able to fully explain what triggers this mystery of the natural world.

How to Grow Monarchs

Tagged monarch butterfly

Monarch butterflies depend on milkweed plants.

They lay their eggs on them because they are the only food the monarch caterpillars eat. Monarch numbers are declining, partly due to the loss of open spaces where milkweeds grow. You can help give monarchs a boost by creating a milkweed garden. What’s the best way to encourage monarchs to turn your backyard into a nursery? Offer them food, drink, a place to stay and a milkweed patch where they can leave their eggs. Here is how to set up your own monarch stopover.

Plant native flowering plants. Many butterflies and native flowering plants have co-evolved over time and depend on each other for reproduction and survival.

Include host plants. Butterflies lay their eggs on specific plants called hosts. Monarchs only lay their eggs on milkweed so it is critical to include native milkweed plants in your butterfly garden. Monarchs will lay their eggs on the leaves and the young caterpillars feed on the plant. The milkweed contains toxins called cardiac glycosides that the caterpillars must ingest, which causes the monarch butterflies and caterpillars to be poisonous to most predators. Milkweed flowers make a colorful splash in gardens, meadows, and other habitats. There are over 100 different milkweed species and monarchs use about 30 species so visit plantmilkweed.org to learn what species to plant in your region.

If you can provide blooming flowers all summer long that will lure more butterflies. Monarchs need nectar from flowers all the time so choose plants that bloom in early, mid, and late summer.

Butterflies also need a place to rest. Flat stones offer them a place to bask in the sun and rest. Avoid insecticides because they kill insects. Include water. Butterflies can often be found puddling – drinking water and extracting minerals from damp areas of the ground. If you put coarse sand in a shallow pan and add it to your habitat butterflies will use it to drink and collect the minerals they need – make sure to keep it moist by adding water.

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