MONARCH BUTTERFLY

Post last updated: August 3rd, 2020

 

Butterfly monarch closeup-1006

 

The Monarch (Danaus plexippus) butterfly really gets around. Its range includes North and South America, the Caribbean, Australia, New Zealand, the oceanic islands of the Pacific, and Western Europe. The milkweed they eat makes them poisonous and their orange coloring is a warning to predators that they are poisonous.

In 2012, I started working towards acquiring plants that appeal to butterflies rather than just me. Most of them like butterfly bush, cosmos, and lantana. My most successful acquisition, from my good friend, Cecelia, was a handful of small, common milkweed plants. Milkweeds are both host and nectar plants for monarchs.

I planted all of them in the same hole right under my bedroom window and watched it grow up to my waist. It was in full sun and attracted dozens of Monarch butterflies who laid their eggs under the leaves. The eggs became caterpillars but I never saw what happened to the adult caterpillars. I never saw the chrysalis. I had LOTS of Monarch butterflies and for me, it became the Year of the Monarch.

This year, I really messed up. I didn’t like the idea of weeding in the flower bed with my various body parts next to caterpillars. Let’s face it, a worm is a worm regardless of what kind of beautiful butterfly it may become. So I moved the plant to the front of the property. It promptly died. I then planted seeds I had saved. They never grew more than a foot in height. It was just too shady along the fence.

In 2014, I will plant them in full sun but, again, not in one of my flower beds where I work. On the subject of butterfly bush, I can’t get them to live more than one season. Any suggestions?

 

HABITAT

Open fields and meadows where milkweed is found.

 

APPEARANCE

The Monarch is bright orange with black borders, black veins and white spots in the black borders. The female has thicker black veins which makes her appear darker; the male has a swollen pouch on both hind wings. Wing span is 3 to almost 5 inches.

 

Photo by Cee.

LIFE CYCLE

Mating is a spring time affair before they begin their migration from where they overwintered. After migration, the female will lay one egg at a time on milkweed  plants over a two to five-week period for a total of 300-500 eggs for the season.

Female Monarch laying eggs.
Female Monarch laying eggs.

 

White Monarch eggs on back of milkweed leaf
White Monarch eggs on back of milkweed leaf
Photo by Cee

After four days, the eggs hatch and the monarch caterpillar eats the milkweed for two weeks. It goes through five developmental phases during which the caterpillar’s appearance changes slightly. It molts after each phase.

 

Baby Monarch caterpillar
Baby Monarch caterpillar

 

Mature Monarch Caterpillar
Mature Monarch Caterpillar

 

In the chrysalis stage, the caterpillar spins a silk pad on the back of a leaf or on a stem. It resembles a “J.”

 

Monarch caterpillars in J formation (inside a habitat)
Monarch caterpillars in J formation (inside a habitat)

 

Chrysalis with gold details beginning to darken
Chrysalis with gold details beginning to darken

 

Chrysalis continues to darken.
Chrysalis continues to darken.

 

Chrysalis that will hatch soon
Chrysalis that will hatch soon
Photo by Cee

 

Monarch next to chrysalis from which it hatched. It must wait 2 or more hours before it can fly. At this stage, it is very vulnerable.
Monarch next to chrysalis from which it hatched. It must wait 2 or more hours before it can fly. At this stage, it is very vulnerable.
Photo by Meta.

 

The adult butterfly lives for 2 to 6 weeks. The last generation of adult butterflies that is born in September and October, however, does not die. It migrates to Mexico or California where it will live for 6 to 8 months until the process starts all over.

 

WHAT TO PLANT FOR THE MONARCH BUTTERFLY

Host Plants – Milkweed (Asclepias).

Nectar Plants — Agastache ‘Ava,’ Bottlebrush (Callistemon spp.), Butterfly Bush (Buddleja), Brazilian Verbena (Verbena brasiliensis), Joe Pye weed (Eutrochium purpureum), Mexican Sunflower (Tithonia), Milkweed (Asclepias), Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) and Zinnia (Zinnia Elegans).

 

CONSERVATION STATUS

Monarchs are considered threatened. Grow milkweed!

18 thoughts on “MONARCH BUTTERFLY”

  1. aboutbutterflybush.com says: … In fact, a butterfly bush is very hard to kill. …
    So I don’t know what is killing yours.

  2. I have been reshaping the plantings in my garden for about 4 years and this past year was rewarded with many Western Swallowtail butterflies. I am sad to say that we are one of the few states that don’t see the Monarch butterfly; a real pity, they are absolutely gorgeous.

    1. Charlie – That’s the story of our life. We get some of the good stuff but not other good things. For instance, I can’t grow peonies, astilbe, hosta and most of the winter bulbs don’t do well here (not cold enough). There are also butterflies I’ve seen in books that we don’t get here. I’m in the process of reshaping my plantings. I am going to put in waaaaaaay more flowers to attract butterflies.

    1. I’ve been stung once by a yellow jacket. I have wasp nests all over my front porch that I won’t kill. I walk among the bees and butterflies and none of them bother me. Alligators, on the other hand, give me a HUGE case of the willies.

  3. dear linda, great photo of monarch. Sometimes plants just refuse to do well in shade. At least you’ve found out what milkweed needs. If by butterfly bush, you mean buddleia, then I think that also needs a lot of sun. Is it possible that the variety you’ve been growing is an annual? cheers, cat

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