The Monarch butterfly is thought to be the king of the butterflies in many circles. Not only because of its beauty, but because of if unique living habits.
The Monarch butterfly is the only butterfly that migrates each year as many birds do. Their mass migration will bring millions of them to California and Mexico each winter, this mass journey will be about 3,000 miles. Each year their long journey must begin in the fall, ahead of the cold weather, which would kill the butterfly.
The Monarch’s life begins as eggs which are hatched as larvae. These larvae eat their eggshells and then the milkweed plants that they were placed. The larvae main diet is the milkweed plant. The fattened larvae become colorful caterpillars that create a hard protective case around themselves while they enter into the pupa stage, this is done for protection.
They will eventually emerge a beautiful colored adult Monarchs. Their beautiful black, white, and orange color makes them easy to see and identify. Their beautiful color pattern warns predators that the insect is foul tasting and poisonous.
The butterflies the come out of the chrysalides in late summer and early fall are much different than those that come out during the longer and much warmer days in the summer. These monarch butterflies are born to fly, and because of the changing weather, they know they must prepare for their long journey.
Only the Monarch butterfly that is born in late summer and early fall make this long one round trip. By next winter when the next migration begins, there will have been several summer generations will have lived and died. It will be last year’s migrators’ great grandchildren that make the next long journey. This new generation of Monarchs will instinctively know the way and follow the same routes their ancestors took. They may even return to the same tree.
Most Monarch butterflies live two to six weeks as an adult butterfly. The total time for one butterfly’s life cycle (on generation) is about six to eight weeks. This is from egg to butterfly. The Monarch that makes the long migration trip will live about four to five months. The 4th generation of Monarchs will hibernate in Mexico or southern California. It will reawaken, become active, find their mate and begin their flight north. They will lay their eggs and then they will die. These special Monarchs will live about four to five months. Not all butterflies live in the trees during their time when they are north for the summer season. Many will live in a butterfly house. Just as they migrate as birds, they can also live in butterfly houses.