Tuesday, August 18, 2015

5 fun monarch facts!

We often think that the truly impressive natural wonders are in places like Africa or Yellowstone National Park, but there’s a record-breaking migration happening in your backyard every year around this time.  The monarch butterflies are starting to arrive here on the East coast! 

Yesterday, Vanessa (a park employee) and I headed out to collect monarch caterpillars and eggs – they’ll be raised indoors and then released once they’re adults.  The staff and visitors at Sky Meadows State Park participate in tagging and tracking these fascinating insects on their annual migration to Mexico.

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These fascinating insects start as very tiny eggs,

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eat their way through several “instars” or molts to become large caterpillars,
monarch caterpillar

and end up as adult monarch butterflies!

The Sky Meadows staff participates with Project Monarch Watch to tag and release these butterflies,  This citizen science project helps researchers learn more about monarchs, and it’s a fun project families can do together!

Did you know:
  • monarch butterflies have just one larval host plant (the plant that the caterpillars eat) – milkweed!  That’s why it’s so important to provide lots of milkweed in your gardens.
  • monarch butterflies are distasteful and even toxic to many predators, thanks to the cardiac glycosides found in their larval host plants.
  • monarch butterflies complete a transcontinental migration each year, using 3 to 5 generations of butterflies – read Four Wings and a Prayer by Sue Halpern to learn more about this migration
  • it’s easy to tell male and female monarchs apart – just look at their wings.  The males have a pheromone spot (see the broader black line on the bottom or hindwing) (images from Project Monarch Watch)
Male Monarch image
while females don’t
Female Monarch image
  • the monarch butterfly has its own IMAX 3D movie – The Flight of the Butterflies!  This story of the monarch butterfly migration and the scientist who studied it is a fascinating one and appropriate for all ages.
Take a little time out this summer and fall to enjoy this marvel of the natural world that’s right in your own backyard!

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