Bug of the Week

The Monarch Butterfly

I enjoyed studying about the Monarch butterfly so much when I was getting information for Bug Trivia, that I decided that it would also be fun to have as "Bug of the Week". I think that you'll enjoy its story!


It begins in the mountain forests of Mexico called the Sierra Madre. This is where the Monarch spends its winter. They cluster together by the millions as they await the return of spring! In the picture to the right, you can see that there are so many Monarch butterflies that they will actually turn parts of the forest orange!


From mid-November to mid-March, the Monarch rests quietly among the Fir trees of the Sierra Madre in Mexico or along the coast of California. The butterflies that live west of the Rocky Mountains migrate to Southern California, and the butterflies that live east of the Rocky Mountains migrate to Mexico. In case you are wondering, the Sierra Madres are mountains in the north-eastern part of Mexico. The red dot on the map to the right shows you where the Sierra Madres are. The name, "Sierra Madre" means "Mother Mountain", in case you were interested.

 I'll bet you've never thought of a butterfly as being heavy, have you? Well, you're right - one butterfly isn't very heavy. But millions can be! Take a look at the picture to the left. There are so many butterflies on the branches of the trees that they are sagging down under the weight! Now that's a lot of butterflies!


The Monarchs have to conserve energy during this time because as spring approaches they'll start their long journey back north.

 The Monarch will migrate as far north as Canada, but there is not one single butterfly that will actually make it all the way there. You see, butterflies don't live long enough to make it there - only six weeks..maybe. So the butterflies that leave Mexico lay eggs part way there, usually somewhere along the Gulf Coast of the United States. Generally, the laying of eggs occurs in places like Texas, Arizona, or Louisiana. The mom and dad butterflies then end up dying, but the babies grow up and continue the journey north! This actually has to happen three to four times before the Monarchs make it as far north as they'll go for the summer.      


It's kind of like if your great-grandparents were pioneers and were going from New York to California in a covered wagon. Part way they gave birth to your grandparents, and your grandparents continued on toward California. After a ways, your grandparents had your parents and they kept on going. And finally your parents had you, and you finished the journey to California. That's kind of what it would be like for the Monarch butterfly.


This last generation, the ones that get to Canada are very hardy! As winter approaches they begin their journey back to their wintering grounds in the Sierra Madres. Now, here are two really amazing things about this fourth generation: First, the Monarchs that journeyed north only live for about six to eight weeks. This fourth generation of Monarchs will live up to seven months! Second, they are going to fly as much as 3000 miles to get back to Mexico. And even though there is no one to show them the way, they will still make it to the same wintering grounds that their great-grandparents left four generations ago! Now that is amazing! These same butterflies will winter in Mexico and not begin laying eggs until they return to the Gulf Coast of the United States in the spring. WOW!


Life Cycle of the Monarch


1. The first stage is the egg. The female Monarch is very particular when it comes to laying her eggs. From what I've read, she will only lay her eggs on Milkweed. There are two good reasons for this. The first reason is that her babies (caterpillars) love to eat Milkweed more than anything else. It's the Monarch's version of baby food.

 Adult Female Monarch

 The second reason is because the Milkweed is poisonous. No, the Monarch is not trying to kill her babies - they are immune to the poison (immune means it doesn't hurt them) - but as the caterpillars eat the Milkweed, the toxins completely permeate their bodies. That means it soaks them, kind of like dipping tissue in water.

Monarch laying
her eggs.

 Photo of Milk Weed

 Now if other creatures like birds try to eat them it makes the birds sick, helping the Monarch caterpillars stay off the menu for other animals, if you know what I mean. This egg stage lasts for four days.


2. The second stage is the caterpillar stage. During this stage, the caterpillar eats like crazy! She has one thing on her mind: storing enough energy to get her through stage three, when she won't feed at all. The caterpillar stage lasts for two weeks.


 3. Stage three is the pupa or chrysalis stage. During this time the caterpillar spins a harness from silk and uses it to hang upside-down from a twig or a leaf. While it is hanging upside-down, it begins to molt. Molting is where it sheds its skin, but for the caterpillar the skin is actually its skeleton. This is when the transformation from caterpillar to butterfly takes place. On the last day, the pupa or chrysalis actually becomes transparent, and you can see the butterfly through the shell!

Beginning Pupa Stage 

The Chrysalis 

Emerging Monarch

All Done! 



4. After two weeks a beautiful new butterfly emerges from the chrysalis and hangs for several hours while its wings dry. I must say, it is very patient. It would drive me crazy if I had to wait for a few hours for my nails to dry! Just kidding. Nail polish and digging for bugs do not go well together! Anyways, while the crumpled-up wings are drying, they are also being pumped full of fluids until they become full and stiff. The Monarch usually emerges from its chrysalis in the morning and by afternoon she is ready to fly! She will flutter them several times to be sure they are stiff and then she is off to begin feeding on the nectar of a variety of flowers! And the cycle is ready to begin again! Our beautiful Monarch will live from two to eight weeks.


Well I hope you've enjoyed getting to know the Monarch butterfly as much as I have! And as always, if you have any questions feel free to "Bug Me"!


Thanks Again For Visiting!


 I hope your ready for another interesting video. This one is really neat. It shows you how to repair the damaged wing of a monarch butterfly. I hope you enjoy!