Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Monarchs are on their way to Mexico

Setting the butterfly free
We've had four Monarchs hatch so far, with two more coming today. Their chrysalises are almost completely see-through now, revealing the black and orange wings within. Strangely, they remind me of uninflated plastic mattresses stuffed inside tiny boxes, just waiting to be blown up.

We learned how to hold a Monarch (gently holding both sets of wings together) so that we could bring them outside and let them go. We set them on some red clover and watch them unroll their long proboscus to take a drink. For a few moments, they seem too familiar with us to need to fly away, but then they take flight and off they go.

Perhaps we should have spoken Spanish to them, since they'll fly all the way to Mexico. 3000 miles, flitting this way and that! Monarchs that hatch in the fall are biologically different from their earlier summer relatives; they won't lay eggs until Spring since they need all their energy for the trip. They often go back to the very same trees that their grandparents came from the year before. Sometimes there are so many butterflies on a single tree that they break the limbs!

And then in the Spring, they'll start heading north--these are the very same monarchs who made the trip down in the fall--and begin to lay eggs. These eggs hatch into caterpillars and then turn into butterflies in a much shorter cycle than in the fall. It can take three or four generations during the summer to make it all the way back up North. How do they know where to go? Nobody knows yet. And I like it that way :)

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