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14 Aug

 

Not many people have been fortunate enough to watch a monarch caterpillar transform to the next stage of a monarch butterfly life-cycle called the chrysalis.  That is, until they watched a video I posted on 8/1/2015 to my Facebook page for Gramma Golden, now approaching 600,000 views.  I had no idea that this four-minute video would capture the interest of so many on Facebook.   But I want to go back a few steps further before I go on.

First of all, monarch butterflies are important pollinators and they are in major trouble due to the loss of their habitat and milkweed, the only food source for their offspring, the caterpillar.  In Mexico during the winter, monarchs find south facing slopes of the mountains and settle on branches of certain fir trees. The temperature and moisture allow them to go into a light hibernation.  This reserves their energy until the warmer spring weather returns when they fly north.  The monarchs that spend the winter in the mountains of central Mexico and in southern California are those born late in the summer months.  They are the final generation each year and their mission is to migrate south, not mate. 

Each spring, they fly north from central Mexico or southern California seeking milkweed (and mates at this time) in northern or eastern United States and southern Canada.  Females lay their eggs on the underside of milkweed leaves and they hatch in 3-5 days as larva.  In another 9-15 days, it increases it’s body mass 2000 times as it grows, shedding it’s skin five times to allow for the rapid growth.  It then spends another 9-14 days as a chrysalis or pupa.  “When fully developed, the adult butterfly emerges from the pupa, pumps fluid from its abdomen into its wings, and flies off to find nectar, mate, and (if a female) lay its own eggs” (www.monarchbutterflyfund.org).

Adult butterflies that don’t migrate (those which emerged in early and mid-summer months) live 2-6 weeks as adults.  On the other hand, those that migrate live 7-9 months.  Upon return, these are the ones that produce the first eggs ( or first generation) of the new cycle followed by three or four summer generations.  The final generation in the fall (quite possibly Sparky and his friends (?), if you have been following my Gramma Golden Facebook page) migrate to the warm climate and spend the winter there. 

Watch for my blog post sometime next week where I will give you a little science lesson about what goes on within the transformation.  But I need to do my homework first! 


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