Hello, world!

After unexpectedly finding two Monarch Chrysalides, I finally had a hobby to occupy my time during my quarentine. Over the course of a few weeks, I have immersed myself into reaserching Monarchs to prepare for the metamorphsis that I was so lucky to witness. Here is where you will find the research I came across, as well as how I cared for these beautiful creatures.

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Our Story

I know every dog owner believes their dog is the best, but my dog Cash is the best. He’s a 60 pound Newfoundland Border Collie mix with huge paws and an even bigger heart. His favorite thing is to get his belly rubbed, his favorite toy is a UFO, he is so sweet and incredibly curious. Cash’s curiosity is what led me to spot the chrysalis in the first place.

I was taking Cash out to the dog park with my boyfriend, Spencer, one evening in April of 2020. Aside from going to work and taking Cash out for walks, we were self isolating in our apartment. This led to a lot of boredom; I started to get fed up with staring at a computer screen all day, and morale was at an all time low. I was at work that day, so when I got home I figured I’d take Cash out one more time before I went to bed. My boyfriend and I leashed him up and we took him outside, and on our way up back to our apartment Cash stopped abruptly to smell a palm tree. We stopped for a second to let him smell around, and I noticed he was sniffing something bright green. I got down to look at it and near the bottom was a beautiful jade and gold chrysalis. I couldn’t really believe it because I’ve only seen the butterflies in Texas.

A huge storm (that turned out to be a not so huge storm) was supposed to pass through that night, and Spencer and I decided it was best to move it to a better location because it was in a vulnerable spot. I tied up a ribbon to both sides of my patio table and wrapped tape around the ends to secure it. After doing some research we went back downstairs with a pair of tweezers and retrieved the chrysalis.

It only took a couple of days for the chrysalis to turn more transparent, and one morning when I checked on it, the butterfly was already hanging out! After they emerge from their chrysalis they have to hang on the chrysalis and dry their wings before they fly away. It was a beautiful sunny day, but it was so windy that the butterfly kept falling off. She finally settled on my finger until she finished drying off. I’ve never seen a monarch up close before, they’re so gentle and beautiful and they love to sit in the sun. I probably facetimed everyone I knew just to show them how beautiful it was, and after about 3 hours she flew off to Mexico. I 100% cried when she took off, partially because the experience was over, and partially because of how majestic it was. But after thinking about it for a while, it just sort of inspired me. I decided to do more research on the butterflies, and landed on dedicating this project on them and I decided to buy a butterfly cage so I can keep up this unexpected hobby.

Cash (aka the goodest boy)

Life Cycle

Photo from Kathleen E. Murrow

The butterfly lays one egg on a milkweed plant, which takes about a month to reach adulthood. The larvae only eat the milkweed plant, so it's important that it's nearby for them to eat. The food they eat is important for them so be strong and healthy before entering its chrysalis.

The larvae make their own chrysalis and will spend a few days there. Inside they transform into a butterfly, then break out of the chrysalis. At this time, they'll hang from the chrysalis to dry off. This is important because they need to be dry so they aren't too heavy to fly. Their wings are also stuck together because of the liquid, so they have to separate before they take off.

Once they dry off, they're able to fly off to find more food, pollinate, and reproduce. Depending on the weather, they may need to fly south to Mexico for the winter. They fuel up before they go and usually go long periods of time without eating. They usually don't stop to eat when they're migrating.

  • Monarch Butterfly - Danaus plexippus
  • Milkweed butterfly
  • Conservation status - G4
  • Native to North America

Life Cycle

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Migration

Map from U.S. Forrest Service

Monarch butterflies are some inspiring creatures. They migrate every winter to escape the cold winters in North America. Monarch butterflies typically live where there is a high population of milkweed, which is the only thing a monarch larvae will eat. Monarchs are seen throughout North America, and in some regions like California, they won't have to migrate because it's warm enough year round. In most cases, the butterflies will have to take the journey south to Mexico. In the map to the right, we will follow some locations in North America where there are a high number of Monarchs, see where their multiple flyways meet, and see where they end up spending the winter in Mexico. These observational creatures know exactly when and where to go, and are prepared to leave at the drop of a hat.

Some Monarchs will travel up to 3,000 miles just to reach the warmer climate in Mexico. The butterflies rely on environmental cues to indicate when it's time to travel south. The first sign is when the days grow shorter in the fall, they notice that each day gets shorter and that's usually their first indicator that it's time to migrate. The emergence of fall brings fluctuating temperatures as well, this will cause the butterflies to cluster to keep warm, which is a sign for them to leave. The final sign is when milkweed plants begin to turn yellow. This means that the plant isn't getting enough water, so butterflies will keep from laying their eggs and migrate instead of reproduce. They listen and observe their surroundings which allow them to know when to get the heck out of Dodge.

Once they reach Mexico, they will typically stay from November to March. Once they reach Mexico, they will rely on the food they ate before they got there. You can look at their abdomen and see if it's thick or thin, the thicker it is means that they have more fat stored. They also like Mexico because it's warm enough for them to stay alive, but cool enough to slow their metabolism. They tend to cluster where there are a lot of pollinators and water nearby.

Monarch butterflies only live up to about 7 week at most once they've transformed into a butterfly. Most of the time, they won't have to worry about migration because of that short life span. But by relying on environmental cues, they're able to determine when and where to go. They're extraordinary creatures that are very kind and smart.

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Tips for Proper Care

Start by finding a nice home for your caterpillars, it's actually best to use a butterfly cage that's designed for raising caterpillars. A breathable mesh cage would be ideal to house them. Have them exposed to the natural heat, keep them near a window that can be kept open or on the porch.(I kept mine on my balcony, and if you do that make sure you check on them every so often!)

I would also write down what is and isn't working, write down how they're interacting with they're surroundings, and how they're acting. This is important if you want to keep them happy and healthy. This also allows for you to troubleshoot if things aren't going as planned.

Only raise one batch of butterflies at a time, or keep each batch in separte cages. Butterflies can potentially spread parasites to caterpillars, so don't keep them in the same cage. I moved the chrysalis outdoors and had it hanging by a clip.

Avoid using any harsh chemicals around the butterflies. This includes: cleaners, hairspray, flea treatments, harsh soap, and hand sanitizer. Use gentle soap to clean up and wash your hands before and after handling the caterpillars and butterflies.

Conservation

Though the monarch population isn't considered endangered, the population is declining. Doughts, deforestation, and pesticides are all contributing to their decline. According to CNN the Monarch population fell by 86% in 2018 from the previous year in California. Most advocate for protecting the butterflies' habitats to help conserve the population

US

There are numerous laws trying to help protect the Monarchs in North America. In California, most of their state parks are sanctuaries and home to these butterflies. The climate in California (mostly Southern California) is warm enough for the monarchs to stay there for the winter which is probably why there are so many people wanting to protect them there.

Canada

The Nature Conservancy Canada works to protect these special creatures. Since Canada has such a high population of milkweed, they naturally flock to these areas in Southern Canada. The NCC has been breeding, replenishing, feeding and cultivating habitats for the monarchs.

Mexico

The main reason for the decline in population in Mexico is because of illegal logging. This ruins habitats for butterflies, and provides them less opportunities to find a place to settle. They're trying to combat this by placing stricter laws and working on protecting monarch sanctuaries.

Check out the Monarch Watch twitter to stay up to date!

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Monarch slideshow