- Education and Science»
- Life Sciences»
- Insects & Bugs
Monarch Butterflies. Plant Milkweed and Raise your own Monarchs
Life Stages of the monarch Butterfly.
The Amazing Story of the Monarch Butterfly
Recently while staying in New Zealand I was fascinated by ranks of boring looking Milkweed in almost every garden center (called Swan Plant in New Zealand because of the shape of their seed pods). On enquiring I was told that many people have them in their gardens to attract Monarch Butterflies as the Swan Plant is their food plant. The plant itself is poisonous so by feeding on the plant the caterpillars become poisonous to their enemies, birds and mice.
Armed with a pot I placed it in a sunny sheltered part of the garden. Sure enough a week or so later a beautiful, big Monarch Butterfly visited laying tiny eggs on the underside of the leaves. After doing this she left and we never saw her again. What happened afterwards is best explained in the following videos.
The Monarch Butterfly is so called because it is considered the King of Butterflies. This title has been earned not only fpr its size, number and beauty but also because of its amazing migration through four generations. Even the Monarch Butterfly Chrysalis is regal with its golden band around a glorious, green chrysalis. A chrysalis of supreme beauty fit for a king
The Migration starts in Mexico during the Northern hemisphere Winter. Flocks of Monarchs cluster together for warmth in wooded parts of central Mexico. As the days lengthen in Spring and the heat of the sun warms up the Monarch butterflies they take off and fly North. Their destination is Canada where they spend the Summer. With the approach of Winter and the shortening days they turn around and fly back again. This amazing feat of navigation and endurance is undertaken by the fourth generations of Monarch which is empowered to live longer than the previous three generations. If that isn't magic, I don't know what is!
In countries that are warm all year round the Monarch doesn't migrate but it over winters in dense conifer forests. This makes New Zealand an ideal place for it. Hawaii, Bermuda and several other similarly blessed countries are also year round hosts. The monarch was first found in New Zealand in the mid 1800's and soon after in Australia where it is called The Wanderer.
The following video shows the hatching of the tiny egg and what happens next. Plant some milkweed plants and enjoy this miracle for yourself. Bear in mind that the whole procedure slows down in colder weather. Milkweed is being eliminated from farmland at an alarming rate so even a few plants can help.
This year we didn't start until nearly the end of the New Zealand summer but we managed to rear 5 new butterflies with another 6 set to hatch after our departure. Watching the whole process brought us great pleasure.Especially if you have children do give it a try.
Egg to Caterpillar
Caterpillar to Chrysalis.
The next video shows the metamorphosis from Caterpillar to Chrysalis. It takes just over two weeks for the caterpillar to change into a Chrysalis. My one milkweed plant was woefully inadequate and we ended up rushing back to the nursery to buy six in all to keep up with the voracious appetite of our fourteen caterpillars. The Chrysalis is truly beautiful and just a hint of the splendor to follow.
Caterpillar to chrysalis
This last stage takes place after over a week with the Chrysalis gradually darkening until it is almost black and then Voila! The Monarch Butterfly emerges in all its glory. Well worth the effort and well worth growing the Milkweed to feed these amazing creatures. I hope you get to enjoy the same delight yourself one day. Enjoy!
Chrysalis to Butterfly
The Milkweed is poisonous and must be handled with care. It gives off a toxic, milky, white sap that is a nasty skin irritant. Many schools in New Zealand have been told to remove the plants from the school gardens because of this. Take care to keep children and animals away from the plant.