By Phyllis Stiles, Executive Director of Bee City USA
Realizing that perhaps as few as 1% of monarch eggs will ever reach adulthood, monarch advocates from the eastern side of the Rockies to the east coast scan their milkweed for eggs as monarch butterflies fly up from Mexico toward Canada in the spring.
The journey is carefully plotted on the Journey North map, thanks to hundreds of citizen scientists who report the first adult monarch, egg, larva, and milkweed seen each year, all along the monarchs’ route. While it only takes one generation to fly from Canada to Mexico, it takes four-five generations before monarchs return to overwinter in Mexico’s high Oyamel Fir forest sanctuaries.
Monarch enthusiasts try to collect the eggs before they become caterpillars which are vulnerable to tachinid flies and other parasitoids. Often referred to as the “monarchy,” these crazy cat (short for caterpillar) people are sometimes forced to sneak around at night in search of fresh milkweed leaves for their ravenous babies. Kitchen counters become changing stations for critter cages filling up with monarch frass (a technical term for poop).
Bee City USA® board member and environmental educator, Kim Bailey, has been a crazy cat lady for many years. Kim first visited the monarch overwintering sanctuaries in Mexico in 2002 and has since co-led several trips. Her butterfly garden was the first in Georgia to be certified as a Monarch Waystation in 2005. Today, there are over 15,000 habitats certified. Kim is a new milkweed seed supplier for Sow True Seed, raising multiple species of milkweed at her Milkweed Meadows Farm in Fruitland, NC.
This year she reared more than 200 monarchs to give away as chrysalides to teachers and her fellow beekeepers. Kim says, “There’s no better way to recruit more people to the monarchy than to have them personally experience the chrysalis’ transformation to a butterfly. It is absolutely miraculous, especially watching the two parts of their tongue (proboscis) zip together!”
(Convenient bug tents are available from Bugdorm.com.)
At Monday night’s beekeeping meeting, Kim gave away more than 20 to-go cups with two chrysalides inside, resting on a cotton ball, for adoptive parents to take home. They will carefully suspend the chrysalides in a large jar or critter cage with ventilation, then watch and wait for their transformation. A color change signals when the time is near.
Once emerged, the butterflies’ wings need to dry for about four hours before they can attempt flight. They may be then released to continue their role in sustaining their species and the great monarch migration.
Want to learn more about efforts to conserve North American monarchs? Visit the Monarch Joint Venture website.
Header photo by: Nancy Lee Adamson
These are the opinions and events of interest to the Bee City USA coordinator and Xerces Society.