Monarch Zone: An Update

In Fall, Feature, Summer by Megan Nichols

Summer is coming to a close, but we’ve still got a few Monarchs to release. Here’s an update on what we’ve been up to and how it’s all going.

In early March of 2018, just a few short months ago, reports on the Monarch population showed their numbers were still down. As in previous years, our own Butterfly Bill set out to do his part and give them the best possible chance by providing milkweed and setting up shelters in which to raise them.

Monarch butterfly shelter

We know you’re out there working hard, too, to increase the population of these beautiful creatures, ‘cause we ran out of milkweed! (Not to worry, a fresh batch of butterfly weed, the orange variety that loves hot, dry locations, came in just this week).

We’ve enjoyed watching Monarch caterpillars go through all the stages all summer long, and it’s pretty easy to raise them. There are just a few important things to know.

The Basics

Milkweed is important. It’s the only plant Monarch caterpillars eat. If you want to attract Monarchs to your yard, provide them with larval host plants.

There are 4 stages of the Monarch life cycle:

Monarch egg

Photo from Wikimedia Commons, by user Bfpage

Egg: they remain in this phase, on the underside of milkweed leaves, for 3-5 days.

Monarch caterpillar on milkweedLarva/Caterpillar: During this stage the larva eat, grow a lot, and molt (shed their skin) 5 times. The times between molting are called instars. This phase lasts 9-14 days.

Monarch chrysalisPupa/Chrysalis: The Monarch caterpillar attaches itself to something (usually not milkweed, so look carefully at other plants and structures) and makes a J formation with it’s body. It then sheds its’ skin one last time as it enters the chrysalis stage. It takes 8-15 days for a chrysalis to become a butterfly.

A newly emerged butterfly has seemingly small wings. In a matter of minutes the wings become full size as the butterfly pumps fluid from it’s abdomen to it’s wings.

Have you ever seen a monarch butterfly emerging from a chrysalis? Watch this video we made:

From start to finish it only takes about a month for an egg to become a Monarch butterfly.

Monarch Zone

As far as Monarch numbers go now, it seems as if thing might be looking up. Though it will be a while before we have another official count, we do know this: we have hatched so many babies this year! Plus, we’ve heard numerous stories from many of you about how many you’ve hatched, too.

Our best hatch day of the season was 31 in one day, and it was an amazing sight. Currently, 301 (not a typo!) monarchs have been released this summer from Tonkadale Greenhouse. We’re crossing our fingers for 350.

The first generations of the summer lived for 2-6 weeks and their sole purpose was to mate and lay eggs, a process that can begin 3-8 days after hatching.

We’re now seeing the last generation of the season hatch. This current generation will live for up to 8 months, and their job is to fly south. As quickly as they are released they take to the sky and begin their long journey. These are the butterflies that will travel to Mexico, overwinter high in the trees, and make their way back next spring.

There is one more step that can make the process of raising and releasing Monarchs even more exciting. Something to consider – order a Monarch tagging kit. Monarch Watch sells kits with everything you need to track the last generation. Outfitted with a tracking number, your Monarchs will be recorded and entered onto the website by those who find them.

We’ll be watching closely! Perennial team member and media specialist, Sam (she’s the one responsible for most of the gorgeous Monarch pics and videos), ordered a kit and will be busy tagging Monarchs released from Tonkadale this fall. We can’t wait to see where they turn up next!