The monarchs are preparing to migrate!

Written by: Lisa Stelzner

Primary Source: Daily Dose of Science Blog

At least right now in Michigan, the monarch butterflies are out and about, and I see one or more pretty much daily! This is very good news compared to last summer, where I only saw a few of them the entire summer, and I did not see any in September preparing for their flight to Mexico.  In the past two weeks, every time I go to the horticulture annual gardens behind my building at Michigan State University, I am seeing monarchs nectaring from the butterfly bushes (they also love goldenrod).  They are very intent on feeding right now so they can build up lipids to fuel their flight to Mexico.  The adults I am seeing right now are what we call fresh, meaning they are very brightly colored and have perfect, complete wings with no rips because they are only a few days old.   They just emerged from chrysalids that came from eggs from the last summer breeding generation.  I can tell they are the migrating generation because they are concentrating so hard on feeding that I was able to pick the one up off the goldenrod pictured below without it even trying to escape!  (Don’t worry, if you know how to properly hold one, it won’t hurt them because they have much thicker, sturdier wings than most butterflies so they can last that long migration!)

A newly eclosed (just came out of its chrysalis) male monarch feeding on goldenrod.  Photo taken by me – please email me (stelzner at msu.edu) to get permission to use this image.

Listen to this great podcast from On Point for reasons why you should care about monarchs.

http://onpoint.wbur.org/2014/08/20/monarch-butterflies-migration-climate-change

Also, I encourage you to participate in citizen science!  If you are seeing adult monarchs where you are right now, submit your observations to Journey North (I started doing this myself this year). This includes if you see a single one flying around (adult observation), or if you see large numbers of monarchs flying or roosting in trees at night (peak migration and fall roost).  Just click on “Sightings” and create an account.

http://www.learner.org/jnorth/monarch/

You can also submit observations in the spring of the first milkweed plants, eggs, caterpillars, and adults.  This organization tracks the timing and numbers of butterflies in the monarch migration each year, which is very important for understanding how their numbers are declining.

For those of you east of the Rockies (where you will see monarchs that migrate to Mexico), I wish you happy monarch sightings now if you are in the Upper Midwest or New England, and over the next month if you live further south!

See my past monarch posts here and here.

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Lisa Stelzner
I'm a plant biology PhD student studying monarch butterflies in Michigan, but I'm interested in lots of other types of science, too. I am interested in how breeding monarch butterflies choose their habitat based on floral species richness and abundance. Few studies have been conducted on optimal foraging theory when it involves an organism searching for two different kinds of resources, and butterflies are an ideal study system to investigate this, since many species are ovipositing specialists and only lay eggs on one species of hostplant, but are feeding generalists and nectar from a broad variety of flowering forbs.