Monarch Butterflies and Their Lives

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The Monarch is the first one that comes to mind when I hear the word Butterfly. When I was growing up this was the one that my teachers talked about the most. It appeared, to me at that time, that this was the only butterfly in the world and the rest were something else. Their colorful wings of orange with the black lines and white spots are appealing. While the male is bright Orange, the Female is Orange-Brown in color. The females black vein like lines are blurred when compared to the males.

I remember my parents taking us five kids to a park for a picnic, or to camp out, and always having the butterfly net handy. We often used it when an insect flew by that we wanted to take a closer look at. One time we built an enclosure with mosquito netting and bamboo fishing poles to keep them in all week end. My children had a small version on the net and a container that was made to hold insects and had hours of fun with it.

I have visited a butterfly garden that was commercially run and it was great to enter the habitat and have them land on me and fly so close to my head. I have always wanted to set up a butterfly garden in my back yard for my family's pleasure.

For those of you that like big words, the scientific name for these wonderful butterflies is Danaus plexippus. The Monarch butterflies live in Southern Canada, all of the continental United States, Central America and most of South America. They are also found in Australia, Hawaii and some Pacific Islands.

The Monarch Butterflies in North America migrate to the south in August through October and winter along the California coast and Central Mexico. Some will winter along the South Atlantic coast and the Gulf coast. During there migration the Monarch Butterflies stop to feed on flower nectar and roost together at night. The residents of tropical areas appear to make altitude changes during the dry season instead of migrating. During the winter, in Mexico, these colorful insects may form huge groups in trees. They will gather, one on top of the other, until there are as many as a million gathered in one mass. While wintering, on warm days, the butterflies may take moisture and flower nectar. Most of the females will have mated before starting the migration back to the north and will lay there egg's on the journey.

The female lays her eggs singly on the underside of leaves where they will hatch into a caterpillar. These Caterpillars will eat the leaves while they grow. The caterpillars like milk weed most of all. Milk weed contains cardiac glycosides that are stored in the bodies of caterpillars and will remain there even after they change into butterflies. These poisons are distasteful and known to cause birds and other vertebrate predators to vomit.

Monarch Butterflies like open areas like fields, meadows, weedy areas, marshes and roadsides. During bad weather these marvels find protection under leaves, in plants and other types of protection that is available. The adults feed on the nectar from milk weeds. Before the milk weed bloom, they will feed on a variety of flowers including dogbane, lilac, red clover, lantana and thistles. In the fall they will feed on goldenrods, blazing stars, ironweed and tickseed sunflower.

Providing the proper habitat for butterflies in a garden is pleasing and attractive and the smell of Lilac is one I enjoy. Some of the other plants provide a colorful landscape for us to look at and smell as well. Building a garden with these flowers in mind attracts Monarch Butterflies and others. Once we started getting visits from the different types of Butterflies, they began laying eggs that produce caterpillars for the grand children to watch. They are amazed by the empty cocoons after the butterflies hatch.