This week Monarch butterflies started arriving in their winter grounds, the Mexican state of Michoacán. Preliminary reports are hopeful for greater numbers than last year’s low.
Here are highlights from the lifecycle of one Monarch that I hope is among those wintering at la Reserva de la Biosfera Mariposa Monarca. It was one of several Monarch caterpillars on the Pink Milkweed and Butterflyweed in my native plant garden. It is the only one that I brought in as an early instar caterpillar simply to observe. Overall, it’s healthier for Monarchs to remain outside in a native plant habitat.
Monarchs speed through their metamorphosis compared to butterflies that don’t migrate. Depending on weather and other factors, a Monarch is a caterpillar for about two weeks, shedding its skin five times during that period, then remaining as a chrysalis for another two weeks.
The Mid-Atlantic’s late summer/early fall generation of Monarchs is the generation that migrates to Mexico to overwinter and then to breed in spring in the southern US. They are the longest-lived generation. Their offspring will make their way farther north, where there will be several generations during the summer breeding season, with the last making the long, amazing migration to Mexico.
Do yourself a favor. Plant milkweed and watch the show.