Each summer in the United States and southern Canada, the beautiful, orange-and-black monarch butterfly can be seen flittering from flower to flower, foraging for nectar. They are the most beautiful and interesting creatures in the insect world, and their migration is a source of fascination for many. How much do you know about the monarch butterfly? These 10 facts that will amaze!
10 Amazing Facts About The Monarch Butterfly
- The adult female monarch butterfly lays tiny eggs covered with a sticky substance on the underside of milkweed leaves, which are extremely toxic. The caterpillar hatches from its egg several days later. The egg shell is the caterpillar’s first meal. From then on, the caterpillar thrives on milkweed leaves.
- The monarch caterpillar and adult butterfly retain the poison from the milkweed leaves in its body, thus protecting it from being eaten by predators.
- Every spring, adult monarch butterflies head north from their winter respite in the southern forests of Mexico, and they head back down south in mid-March for breeding.
- In its first two weeks, the caterpillar increases in size by 2,700 times.
- Nearly 80% of the food the caterpillar eats is stored and converted to fat in the abdomen. Once the caterpillar is mature, it stops eating.
- The caterpillar weaves a silk pad on the underside of a twig and attaches itself. Hooked to the twig, it sheds its skin for the fifth time, revealing the pupa. Encased in a turquoise and gold chrysalis, the pupa remains attached to the twig for two to three weeks. At two weeks, the chrysalis becomes transparent, and eventually begins to crack open, allowing the butterfly to emerge. See the video below!
- Monarch butterflies cannot bite and drink through a long tongue called a proboscis that works like an eyedropper drawing up nectar. Like a retractable garden hose, its tongue coils up under its lower lip when not in use.
- Monarchs smell with their antennae. Nectar and water are tasted by the sensory hairs on their legs and feet.
- The monarch butterfly will continue to feed, fly, and reproduce throughout the U.S. and southern Canada, for several generations. It is the fourth generation of monarch butterflies that actually migrates to Mexico in fall.
- Monarch butterflies travel as much as 100 miles a day during its 3,000 mile migration, and relies on the huge volume of food it ate when it was a caterpillar for fuel.
Fun fact: The monarch butterfly’s bright colors serve as a warning to predators that they are poisonous, and they should attack at their own risk!
What can we do to help the monarch butterfly thrive?
Sadly, monarch butterflies are headed to extinction. To save them, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Wildlife Federation, and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation are working together to grow milkweed and other butterfly-friendly plants along the monarch’s main migration route from Minnesota to Mexico.
We can help too. Here’s how:
- Establish a wildflower garden in your yard for pollinators like the monarch butterfly and honey bee.
- Ask your local government and garden clubs to work together to establish pollinator wildflower gardens in city parks, etc.
- Encourage local farmers to designate space along fence rows, and in ditches for native wildflowers to thrive, without the use of chemical sprays.
- Plant milkweed in your yard, or field.
- Plant native wildflowers along your driveway and fencing.
- Don’t spray chemical herbicides on your lawn, garden, or fields.
- If your local electric authority sprays chemical herbicides under power lines on your property, contact them, complain and ask to be placed on the no-spray list.
- Buy a butterfly kit. Encourage your children to experience, and appreciate the life cycle of the butterfly, first hand.