The Journey of the Monarch Butterfly
Butterflies are some of the most stunning creatures on this planet. Monarch butterflies in particular are considered especially beautiful, hence the name “monarch,” implying that they’re a type of royalty. From their caterpillar stage to when they become fully-fledged butterflies, monarchs are pretty awesome. No matter who you are, you can appreciate the beauty and incredible feat that is a butterfly.
Every monarch butterfly goes through four separate stages in its life cycle. After the previous generation of butterflies lays their eggs, these eggs take a little less than a week to hatch. The egg is the first stage of a butterfly’s life. Once the eggs hatch, larvae emerges, which is a baby caterpillar. Over the next couple of weeks, the caterpillar feasts on milkweed in order to reach its largest size and begins looking for a place to make its cocoon. When the caterpillar is ready, it attaches itself to part of a plant using silk and forms a chrysalis, which it then spends about 10 days inside of, transforming itself. This process in the caterpillar’s life is one of the most impressive, because at this time its body turns into a more liquid form and rearranges into the butterfly it will become. Finally, the stunning butterfly emerges from its cocoon, dries off its wings, and takes off to spend the next several weeks, pollinating plants, and eventually laying its own eggs to ensure the next generation of monarchs.
A common belief is that all monarchs make the massive migration to the south each year in order to mate and return home to lay their eggs. However, this is a misconception! Each year, monarchs go through a few generations before one returns south to complete the migration. That means that many monarchs never travel far outside of where they’ve been born. For those that do make the migration, it’s an impressive feat. Populations of monarchs in the northeastern United States travel down to Florida, Texas, California, and Mexico to spend the winter; the rest of the year is warm enough for generations of monarchs to stay in the northern states.
Unfortunately, since the 1990s, monarch populations have decreased over 80 percent. Even though monarchs have a great defense against natural predators, such as birds, thanks to their milkweed diet, which makes them toxic when consumed, there are plenty of other threats to their survival. A huge threat is how pesticides have killed off milkweed plants, the monarch’s sole source of food when it’s developing. Many people have begun planting milkweed in their yards in order to attract monarchs and foster their populations. Habitat loss and climate change also play a large role in harming monarch populations, so it’s vitally important to raise awareness and help sustain these butterflies. Donate to save monarch populations!