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Monarch Butterfly

Monarch Butterfly (Danaus plexippus) is undoubtedly one of the most recognized animal species in the world. This is partially due to its wide distribution, but probably more due to its beautiful, striking coloration

Monarch Butterfly

Monarch Butterfly

Orange-and-black warning coloration of monarchs is noticeable, and its memorable pattern is directed at repelling insectivorous birds. Experiments conducted with captive blue jays showed that monarchs indeed are toxic . Because they are distasteful due to ingestion by larvae and sequestration by adults of cardenolides that are toxic to birds.

Monarch serves as a model for several mimetic species and is frequently confused with the viceroy (Limenitis archippus and queen butterflies. That mimicry is considered to be Müllerian, with all species involved being distasteful to some degree and contributing to each others’ defense .

Habitat: The Monarch Butterfly (Dannaus plexippus) has a rich natural history that has been studied extensively by entomologists and biologists. Despite this scrutiny, new discoveries are still emerging about this beautiful insect. It has an extensive home range, but specific habitat needs. Its mating habits are in some ways the opposite of what one would expect, and its complex adaptations continue to cause argument amongst researchers to this day. The ecology and the home range of the monarch butterfly are closely intertwined, as with most species.

Monarch Butterfly

Monarch Butterfly

Put simply, it is dependent upon milkweed plants, belonging to the family Asclepiadaceae, of which about 2,400 species exist (Urquhart, 1987). The distribution of the monarch is controlled by the distribution of milkweed, it regulates their density in a given area, and it is for this plant that the monarchs migrate for long distances every year. So dependent upon milkweed is the monarch that where one finds the monarch, one will also find milkweed.

Milkweed is the host plant for most of the monarchs life cycle. Eggs are deposited and hatch on the underside of leaves of the milkweed plant. Upon hatching, the larva will feed upon the fine hairs on the leaves of this plant, and stay on this same plant throughout its five molting stages. After molting, the larva will leave the milkweed and construct its chrysalis somewhere else. However, once an adult monarch emerges from the chrysalis, it will soon head back to a milkweed plant for foraging and shelter.

Monarch Butterfly Larvae

Monarch Butterfly Larvae

Life Cycle: Monarch reproduction is a complicated process! It is tied in to the migratory patterns of the monarch. In the monarch’s summer territory, which includes most of North America, monarchs will mate up to seven times. Each butterfly lives from two to six weeks. The male courts the female in the air, tackles her and breeds with her on the ground.

monarchs migrate to their summer territory, the female lays her eggs on milkweed plants. The eggs take 3-15 days to hatch into larvae. The larvae feed on the milkweed for about two weeks. At the end of the two weeks, they attach themselves to a twig, shed their outer skin and change into a chrysalis. This happens in just a few hours! In two weeks a full-grown monarch emerges!

As fall approaches non-reproductive monarchs are born. These are the butterflies that will migrate south. They will not reproduce until the following spring. These late summer monarchs will travel hundreds and even thousands of miles to their winter grounds in Mexico and California. These monarchs need a lot of energy to make their trip! They store fat in their abdomens that will help them make the long trip south and will help them survive the winter.

During their five months in Mexico from November to May, monarchs remain mostly inactive. They will remain perfectly still hour-after-hour and day-after-day. They live off of the stored fat they gained during their fall migration. When they first arrive at their winter locations in November monarchs gather into clusters in the trees. By December and January.

Monarch Butterfly Egg

Monarch Butterfly Egg

when the weather is at its coldest, the monarchs will be tightly packed into dense clusters of hundreds or even thousands of butterflies. By mid-February these clusters of butterflies begin to break up and the monarchs will begin to gather nectar. In the spring they will reproduce and their offspring will make the return trip to the north.

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