Fascinating Facts About the Monarch Butterfly Migration

North American Monarch butterflies do not like cold weather, so every fall they head south for the winter. According to Monarch Watch, the Monarch’s migration is driven by seasonal changes. Shorter days and lower temperatures influence the movement of the Monarch.

They fly at speeds ranging between 12 to 25 miles an hour using updrafts of warm air, called “thermals,” to glide as they migrate on their 2500-3000 mile voyage from the Great Lakes in Canada to the warm Central Mexican oyamel fir forests in the mountains of Michoacán.

The butterflies fly through the Sierra Madre mountains on their way to their over-wintering grounds in Michoacán. (Photo by Omar Franco Reyes)

All along their migratory route, they will join together at night in clusters called roosts to rest. Sometimes they roost overnight, and other times they will roost in the same place for several days, waiting for optimal weather to head back on their southern journey. Scientists believe this roosting behavior provides safety from predators.

Butterfly Roost By Loadmaster (David R. Tribble) https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8545093

A monarch butterfly weighs less than 1 gram, about what a paper clip weighs, yet they are able to travel 1500-2500 miles to their over-wintering grounds. And according to Journey North, they have been known to fly as high as 11,000 feet. Most migrating songbird migrations occur in a range of 2000-4000 feet high.

See more of Celeste’s wonderful illustrations at https://celestegagnon.wordpress.com

Not all Monarchs migrate to Mexico. Monarch butterflies that live on the west side of the Rocky Mountains overwinter in eucalyptus and pine trees in various places along the California coast between Sonoma County and San Diego.

A cluster of Monarchs in Goleta. Click here to see more over-wintering sites in California.

A few years ago I visited an over-wintering site in Pacific Grove. When you first enter the site early in the morning you do not see the butterflies because they look like leaves in the trees. But as it warms up they become active and will open their wings revealing the brilliant orange colors.

Monarchs roosting in Eucalyptus trees in Pacific Grove. Notice how in the first photo it is hard to see the butterflies.

Monarchs begin to arrive in Michoacán, Mexico, during the last week of October and the first week in November. In fact, the natives in that area believe the butterflies are the souls of their dead ancestors coming to visit. Altars of food and flowers are constructed to celebrate their arrival. (To read more about Day of the Dead, Click Here.)

This beautiful altar celebrates the Monarch butterflies during the Day of the Dead. Photo by Monika Moore, California Butterfly Lady

Millions of butterflies will stay for the winter months high up in the trees, protected from the cold weather. Tens of thousands of Monarchs can cluster together on one oyamel tree in order to keep warm.

Wouldn’t you love to see this in person! Save Our Monarchs is sponsoring a trip. Check it out at  at http://www.craftours.com/trips/?page=mexico_monarch_0218                     (Photo by Carol Pasternak)

As warmer weather arrives, the Monarchs will become more active flying down to sip water in nearby streams. Click here to watch A “cascade” of monarch butterflies at an overwintering site in Mexico – an incredible sight!

In late February these Monarchs will begin their northern travels back to the United States and Canada. They will mate and lay eggs along the way where they find flowers to nectar on and milkweed for their young. This generation will not make the trip back form their starting point. They leave that journey for their children and grandchildren.

Map of the fall migration.

Celebrate the Monarch butterfly migration with this t-shirt.

Now available in purple, green, blue, lemon and black. sizes for women, men and children. Click to expand your wardrobe: http://amzn.to/2eMwdIR

Butterflies and Pumpkins

I love fall! Butterflies are abundant this time of year. Monarchs are migrating south. Autumn leaves are starting to show their crimson, orange and golden colors. And, then there are pumpkins!

Pumpkins all lined up and ready to be taken home to carve.

Here are a few ideas on how you can celebrate this wonderful time of year with butterflies and pumpkins.

Monika Moore, the California Butterfly Lady, always creates fun fall butterfly displays using Monarchs she’s raised.

You can check out more of Monika’s festive photos at https://www.facebook.com/CaliforniaButterflyLady/

Heather Ward of Heather Ward Wildlife Art carved this Monarch butterfly. She explained, “When carving a pumpkin, it is important to cut out pieces in the right order. Start with the smallest first. In this case, I had a ton of tiny dots. Those were actually the easiest to put in – I just used a drill bit to poke holes in. Then I worked on the smaller patches on the wings, then the larger ones. I still broke a few lines, but it held together. Last, I carved the antennae and upper part of the background circle, then the lower part of the circle.”

Like a moth to flame, this Monarch butterfly can’t get enough of Heather Ward‘s  enchanted jack-o-lantern.

This adorable little girl and her butterfly won the 2014 This Old House Pumpkin Carving Contest.

“Pumpkin carving of a girl with a butterfly. I used various size knives and drills for this project. Also used a few toothpicks to hold it in place.” Jina L. of Mississauga, Ontario.

Need some help carving a butterfly? Download this free stencil with instructions from Better Homes and Gardens.

Download this free stencil with instructions from Better Homes and Gardens. http://www.bhg.com/halloween/pumpkin-carving/printable-pumpkin-stencils/butterfly-pumpkin-stencil/#

Don’t feel like you are creative? Jill Staake of Birds and Blooms used metal butterfly-shaped cookie cutters and a rubber mallet to make these butterfly designs. She used smaller “pie pumpkins” to create this small collection.

Hollow out each pumpkin as you would for traditional carving. Then, center a cookie cutter on one side and gently tap with the rubber mallet until the cookie cutter goes all the way through the flesh.

Start in the center and work side-to-side to avoid bending the metal. Remove the cut pumpkin along with the cutter, and clean up the edges with a sharp paring knife.

Find a butterfly-shaped cookie cutter at http://amzn.to/2gXZrpI and

You might want to consider purchasing a Professional Pumpkin Carving Tool Kit to help you carve your pumpkins.

You can find this Professional Pumpkin Carving Tool Kit at Amazon. http://amzn.to/2h05wCc

If you raise Monarchs you know that this time of year there is always a shortage of milkweed to feed starving caterpillars. Did you know that you can feed 4th and 5th instar Monarch caterpillars fresh pumpkin?

Monarch larva will eat pumpkin during their last stages. Notice the color of the frass is dark orange rather than dark green.

When you are finished with your pumpkins, save the leftovers for your Monarch butterfly caterpillars.

Happy Butterfly Halloween!

Butterfly Costumes for Halloween

Halloween is just around the corner. Do you have your costume ready? Here are some butterfly-themed costumes you might like.

What an adorable idea for a couple!

Julie Ann Art created this unique Monarch butterfly costume.

Here is another cute duo.

Katie Van Blaricum of Insect Art and her darling little caterpillar.

This family dressed up as the whole lifecycle of the Monarch butterfly.

Aryn Bedrick made a costume for every member of the family to represent the four stages of a butterfly.

Don’t you love this adorable little butterfly?

Check out these butterfly costumes for babies on Amazon. Click Here or on the photo.

Even dogs can fly!

Don’t miss out on these butterfly costumes for doggies! Click Here or on the photo.

Sometimes a child-created costume can be the best!

Click Here or on the photo to see how to make your own butterfly wings.

And if you are not creative and just too busy to make a butterfly costume, you can always find one online.

Click Here or on the photo to shop for butterfly costumes.

Click Here to see more butterfly costume ideas on Butterfly Lady’s Pinterest pages.

Enjoy the butterflies!

Painted Lady Butterflies

All across Canada, in the northeastern United States and in the Midwest, people have reported seeing scores of Painted Lady butterflies (Vanessa cardui).

In fact, the National Weather Service posted an image of a bewildering blob this week of a great mass of colors spread across Denver and neighboring counties. Weather scientists weren’t sure what to make of it. At first, their best theory was that they were looking at birds. But it turns out that it was migrating Painted Lady butterflies.

A radar image that shows migrating Painted Lady butterflies. (National Weather Service)

Todd Stout, of Raising Butterflies, said, “We are experiencing an unprecedented southward fall migration of the Painted Lady butterfly. In all the 30 years I’ve been studying butterflies in Utah, I have never seen anything like this–not in the fall. It is even more pronounced east of us in Colorado and the midwestern states. Yes, Painted Ladies migrate north into Utah from Mexico during the late winter/early spring. This is well documented and well known amongst local butterfly lovers.”

Painted Lady butterflies nectaring on Butterfly Bush (Buddleia spp.).

The Painted Lady is native throughout the United States. In fact, it is the most widely-distributed butterfly in the world. It is found throughout Europe, Asia, Africa, North America, and Central America. It is not a permanent resident in the eastern United States, but quasi-periodically migrates there from the deserts of the southwestern U.S. and northern Mexico. These migrations are sporadic, sometimes enormous, and often follow rainy periods in those deserts.

Painted Lady larvae feed on a wide variety of host plants from the families Compositae (especially thistles), Boraginaceae, Malvaceae (especially the hollyhock Alcea rosea), common mallow (Malva neglecta), and a number of legumes including Iowa soybeans.

The Painted Lady butterfly and some of its host plants.

Some confuse these butterflies with the Monarch (Danaus plexippus). While their color scheme may be similar to Monarch butterflies, Painted Ladies have eyespots on the underside their wings in addition to brown coloring on both sides. Painted ladies lack the vein pattern that monarchs are best known for. Painted ladies are also smaller than Monarchs, with a wingspan measuring less than 3 inches.

Dorsal and ventral views of the Painted Lady. Note the yellow-tipped knobs on their antennae.

Thanks to favorable temperatures, there has been a huge influx of Painted Lady butterflies this fall. Some observers have spotted more than 100 in a single garden! To attract these and other butterflies to your garden you can hang up fruit inside a suet feeder.

A couple of Painted Lady butterflies enjoy sips of sweet fruit juice on a summer afternoon. • Click Here or on photo to view a variety of suet baskets.

 

Enjoy the butterflies!

Help Migrating Hummingbirds

Most people are well aware that Monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) will soon begin their southern migration from Canada and the northern United States down to Mexico. But they are not the only migrants. Hummingbirds also migrate south and they, too, will soon start their journey south.

Male Ruby-Throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris). Photo Copyright © by Brenda Hawkins. Used with permission.

Approximate range/distribution map of the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird. Green indicates the summer-only range, blue indicates the winter-only range, and orange indicates areas through which the species will pass during migratory activity.

In the weeks before hummingbirds migrate, they start to intensely feed in an attempt to gain weight and fat. This is called hyperphagia. A female might put on 25-40% more weight while a smaller male might double its weight. Hummingbirds consume 50% of their weight in sugar each day from flower nectar and hummingbird feeders, with insects providing the remainder of their diet.

Ruby-Throated Hummingbird feeding on Bee Balm (Monarda spp.) Photo courtesy of Joe Schneid, Louisville, Kentucky, USA.  https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6691558

You can help migrating hummingbirds by planting flowers that have high nectar content. Hummingbirds are especially attracted to tubular flowers such as Coral Honeysuckle, Fushia, Daylilies, Bee Balm, Cardinal Flowers, Salvias, and Petunias. They are also attracted to Coral Bells, Larkspur, Columbines, Coneflowers, and Lantanas. Notice that many of these flowers also attract butterflies!

The best hummingbird flowers produce large amounts of nectar for the birds to drink, are shaped for hummingbirds’ long bills so they can sip the nectar effectively, and feature bright colors, including red shades, to catch hummingbirds’ attention.

You can also help migrating hummingbirds by putting out several Hummingbird feeders. Hummingbirds tend to be very territorial and do not like to share. Make sugar water mixtures with about one-quarter cup of sugar per cup of water. Food coloring is unnecessary; table sugar is the best choice. Change the water before it grows cloudy or discolored and remember that during hot weather, sugar water ferments rapidly to produce toxic alcohol.

Find this hummingbird feeder by Perky Pet at http://amzn.to/2fXYZds

Keeping your feeders clean and hygienic is a vital aspect of feeding the birds. Not only are hummers more likely to imbibe from a clean feeding station, but it’s healthier for them as well. Most hummingbirds would rather go without food than drink nectar that has gone bad, so it’s important to keep your feeder clean if you want to continue enjoying their visits.

If ants are a problem, use an ant guard to keep them off of the feeder. It is not recommended to place petroleum jelly or oil on the poles.

This is the best way to keep pesky ants away from the hummingbird feeders. Click Here or on the photo for a closer look and to see other types of ant guards.

Help track hummingbirds as they travel to their wintering grounds by becoming a citizen scientist and reporting hummingbird sightings at Journey North.

You can report Hummingbird sightings at Journey North. Click Here or on the photo for details.

And while you are helping out migrating hummingbirds you will also be helping migrating Monarch butterflies!

Monarch butterfly nectaring on a hummingbird feeder in Raleigh, North Carolina, USA. The butterfly stayed at the feeder for more than a minute, giving me plenty of time to take this photo.

Here are five of my favorite hummingbird books.

Click on each photo or title for complete details.

Hummingbirds written by Ronald I. Orenstein with photography by Michael Fogden and Patricia Fogden

Hummingbirds: A Life-size Guide to Every Species by Michael Fogden, Marianne Taylor, and Sheri L. Williamson