It’s the Monarch butterflies that love this hot weather. They can only do their thing when it’s 60 degrees or higher. Today’s temp was certainly lots higher when Nancy at Natureworks told us about their concerted effort to help replenish the declining Monarch population–over 50% in the past 40 years.
As of 2015, Nancy and Natureworks released 100 Monarchs, with 30 more being nurtured now. Only 1 in 100 eggs becomes a butterfly, so for a typical female that lays 300-500 eggs in her 2-5 week life, that 3-5 offspring. But with a care program like Natureworks’, those odds are wonderfully improved.
Why is it so tough for an egg to make it?
Everything has to be just right, and that means, everything. Presence of habitat, nourishment, evading predators. So many potential complications. Those eggs can sure use some TLC. Natureworks cultivates the desired diet – milkweed – and introduces ladybugs to eat the aphids, one of those predators that loves the Monarch eggs.
Monarch eggs are teensy, and egg hunting is no small task. Once found, the eggs are brought inside and placed in hatching boxes.
The Monarch’s work is just getting started.
It takes a week for a caterpillar to grow to the size of a sunflower seed. It eats its shell for protein and then molts four times, consuming the shed skin. The caterpillars will eat Monarch eggs, too–a species-imposed impediment.
Then it’s time to grow, and as Nancy puts it, “poop.” The hatching boxes have to be cleaned twice a day, which involves removing the caterpillars, not losing any, cleaning the waste, and replacing the carefully counted caterpillars. It takes about an hour each time. No more complaints about litter boxes!
The caterpillar “unzips its skin” to turn into a chrysalis. Then Natureworks dangles each chrysalis from a silk threat clasped by a tiny clothes pin. You can see the stages, as Nancy points out the hanging J that becomes a chrysalis.
In 7 to 14 days, the caterpillar will “liquefy as it re-forms itself as a butterfly,” Nancy told us in genuine wonder. When it emerges, the Monarch’s wings are wet, and it has to hang, like dripping laundry on the line, for 4 hours to dry.
Then they need to eat. Voracious, these Monarchs. Those white blobs are cotton balls saturated in hummingbird nectar, so that the Monarchs have a meal ready. They love their nectar plants – daisies, phlox, ironweed, Astoria, goldenrod, and of course, the butterfly bush.
Natureworks releases the butterflies on their second day. Below, a Natureworks staffer brings the day-olders to the nectar garden, so they can immediately “start tanking up.” It’s like a “health food store,” Nancy explained.
See, the butterflies born in late August into the early fall have a very different journey. Unlike their short-lived parentage, the Monarchs are flying some 50 miles a day to get to a very particular 10,000′ mountain and 60-square-mile forest in Mexico, arriving November 1. Imagine having that kind of built-in radar.
Now their migration can be tracked through an innovative tagging program, and their arrival is celebrated in the nearby town. Locals believe the butterflies represent the “souls of the departed,” and their arrival is celebrated as a Day of the Dead. Traditionally, the butterflies are released in honor of someone who has died.
On the return journey through Texas and the Midwest, marked by laying eggs in milkweed, this 4th generation will die out. A new generation takes over, branching out to different home spots, including Connecticut. You can track their migration on Journey North.
But first, we have work to do. It’s time to release those butterflies born yesterday. One by one, the Monarchs are taken from their protective home…
…and off they fly.
Released, the Monarchs head right into the nectar garden…
…and start their miraculous journey…
Kudos Natureworks for your astonishing Raise and Release program!