Sunday, July 4, 2010

Monarch Butterflies

I never noticed insects - other than ticks, ant, flies and mosquitoes - when I was a kid.

I remember how surprised I was to learn that insects migrate.   I was at an entomology conference and one of speakers presented a program on the mystery of Monarch butterfly migration.

Back in 1930, Dr. Fred Urquhart, an entomologist at the University of Toronto, began his quest to solve the mystery of where Monarch butterflies spent the winter.  He invented a method for tagging butterflies and recruited thousands of volunteers to help him.  I signed up - and tagged Monarchs for several years.  

It took 45 years for Dr. Urquhart's study to find the answer. On January 1, 1975, Kenneth Brugger, a Kenosha, Wisconsin native living in Mexico City, discovered Monarch overwintering sites in central Mexico.

But Monarch research (and the tagging project) continues, now managed by the University of Kansas.   If you're interested, several other organizations are recruiting volunteer butterfly observers too:  Journey North, Project Monarch Health, the Monarch Larva Monitoring Project and the NABA butterfly counts.

I've been seeing more and more Monarch butterflies lately.  I can't resist checking the undersides of milkweed leaves for eggs, caterpillars and chrysalids.

I've been watching this particular caterpillar on Rustic Road 107 in Meridean for the past 2 weeks.

I snapped this photo just as the insect defecated - note the "frass" on the left.

I plan to check to see if I can find this caterpillar's chrysalid this week.

Last week, when I took my neighbors to see this caterpillar, Andrea asked:  How many generations do Monarchs have in a year?   I thought there were three,  but I wasn't sure.  So I looked it up on the US-FWS website.  Turns out, Monarchs can have up to 4 generations each year - the last of which migrates south, over-winters in Mexico, then begins the migration north in the spring.  Amazing!

Spring Migration Map © USGS

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