The majestic Monarch butterfly

August 27, 2014   ·   0 Comments

The monarch butterfly used to be a butterfly you would see in your garden all the time. Now, not so much.
The main reason for the Monarch’s disappearance is its habitat is being destroyed by industrial/residential growth.
The Monarch’s host plant, the milkweed, is getting cut down, taking the eggs and caterpillars with it.
Milkweed is a toxic plant that the monarch butterfly needs to survive, lay its eggs on and turn into this beautiful butterfly we love. In turn this makes the monarch toxic to any predator who may think it would be a tasty meal.
Milkweed stores a poison called Cardiac Glycosides which is harmful to the Monarch’s natural predators such as birds, frogs and lizards.
But without milkweed, or forests to winter in, there may be no Monarch.
The Monarch is the only migrating butterfly. They fly at speeds of 12 to 25 mph and glide on the thermals as much as they can.
It is a 2500 mile hike from Canada to Mexico – Oyamel Fir Forest in the Michoacna Hills – were the butterflies rest until it is time to start again. In Mexico, the forests are disappearing, and insecticides are being used more often which is causing further problems for this highly identifiable species.
There are four generations of Monarch alive at any one time. Amoungst these four generations it is only the fourth generation that migrates. The first three generations only live about six weeks after they emerge. So a Monarch’s life cycle is very amazing. The egg is laid, tiny white egg barely visible on the underside of a milkweed leaf. Then comes the caterpillar, a little eating machine that grows shedding its skin five times, then a stage called pupa (chrysalis). A Monarch Chrysalis is a work of art. Looking like a beautiful green casing with a golden ring around it. Like real gold. Inside this chrysalis the butterfly grows. The green casing starts to darken as time gets near. It is black just before it emerges, and clear. You can see the Monarch inside getting ready to push its way out. Wings, soft and folded, it clings to its lifeline (chrysalis) and drips and dries, pumping blood into its wings to get them to open and ready for flight – which takes three to four hours. When that process is complete, it flies away to start the cycle all over again.
To tell a male from a female you need to look at the wings. The male has a tiny black dot on both wings where the female has none.
Monarchs do not have lungs for breathing like we do. They have a very unique system that takes place through tiny vents in the abdomen called spiracles which distribute the oxygen through the monarchs system.
A wingspan of 10cm.and weighing in at a whopping 0.25 to 0.75 grams, this little creature can flap its wings slower than other butterflies – about 300 to 720 times a minute.
Monarch’s can see a perception of colors and even UV light that we cannot see.
They can lay up to 250 eggs per day, one at a time, and one per milkweed plant. But when someone comes along and pulls up or cuts down these plants, the life within is lost. What can we do?
Plant milkweed in your garden. I believe this “weed” has just been named a garden “plant” instead of a weed. Don’t, cut milkweed down.
Currently the monarch butterfly as of 2008 became of special concern on the species at risk list in Ontario. This means that it could end up being either threatened or worse, endangered due to further interruptions in biological characteristics and other threats. Don’t let this happen. Plant a butterfly garden in your yard, including the milkweed plant – and let’s hope we are not too late.
I am currently a member of a team doing a biological survey at Tiny Marsh and we have seen very few Monarchs there in two years. When we see one, it is a wonderful sight. Let’s not lose this life.

By Jennifer Howard




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