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10 Neat Things About Monarch Butterflies
by Dorothy Dobbie
May 20, 2012

1. Milk for baby monarchs. Asclepias or milkweed is the only plant on which the female monarch will lay her eggs. The milkweed not only provides sustenance for the larvae, it provides them with protection, making the butterflies taste foul to birds and other predators. It also makes them poisonous.

2. The Wanderer, Danaus Plexippus. The monarch is the best known butterfly in North America, renowned for its migratory habits which can take it from Canada to Mexico and Baja, California where millions of butterflies, born in August, rush to spend the winter. But it has also migrated elsewhere and in1871, it was found in Australia where it is called the Wanderer. It has also travelled to the Canary Islands, the Azores and Madeira and the occasional stray shows up in Europe and the Uniited Kingdom and even in Hawaii.

3. Light weights make heavy burdens. The migrating monarch, when she gets to Mexico, sleeps in the winter in the branches of fir trees. Sometimes the burden of all those sleeping beauties becomes so great that the branch breaks.

4. A beautiful but brief life. The monarch lives just two months, except when it is overwintering down south when it enters a state called diapause which can carry it through for seven months or even more.

5. Go north young butterfly, go north. Just as late-birthing butterflies go south in winter, in spring, a batch files north to Canada. However, this is more of a relay journey than a nonstop flight by a single butterfly. Along the journey, the female lays eggs, which hatch in just four days, for another generation which will continue the trip. It takes as many as four generations to get to the original locations in Canada or the northern United States, but nobody knows how the fourth generation offspring know where to go.

6. Circadian clock. Scientists believe that the butterflies have an inherited circadian clock that resides in their antennae. This, they believe, may allow the butterflies to orient themselves to the position of the sun in the sky which is somehow tied to information they glean from the magnetic poles. There is something called cryptochrome in those super antennae, that apparently is sensitive to the violet-blue part of the spectrum. The cryptochrome functions as a chemical compass, which can detect a pole, although not whether it is north or south . . Hmmm. Seems like the scientists still have some work to do.

7. How orange is my wingspan. Migrating butterflies have been discovered to be more intensely orange that those who are stay at home breeders. Could this have something to do with their navigational skills?

8. Food fit for a monarch. The list of nectar plants is long, but a few you may want to plant are the milkweed - some of which are very lovely although on the noxious weed list in some areas - are Joe Pye weed, lilac, asters, dame's rocket and red clover. Come to think of it several of these monarch food plants are on that no-no list, so our environmental friends have a quandary to deal with. Do you eliminate the plants and the butterflies with them or.

9. Mud puddling. Monarchs can sometimes be seen wallowing in mud puddles. They are not demonstrating piggy-like behaviour, they are looking for moisture and minerals both. Clever.

10. More than just babies here. Mating is both aerial and on the ground. When the male injects his sperms, it is believed that he is passing on more than just fertilizer for the egg. The spermatophore that is transferred contains an energy resource to help the female get through both reproduction and migration.

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