Magnificent Monarchs

Male Monarch resting. Originally I thought this was a female but was corrected by Linda of  The black dots on the hind wings are ‘scent pouches,’ identifying him as a male.

Migration is underway. We’re beginning to see more of the monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) magically drifting southward on their August journey to Mexico.  One of the few insects able to make the trans-Atlantic crossing, the East Coast monarchs winter in Mexico, then make the amazing return journey back each spring.

Interestingly, monarchs only live a few short weeks and those born earlier in the summer do not make the southern journey. Those born at this time of the year, usually the 3rd or 4th generation of monarchs, are the ones to make that southern migration and survive the winter. It is amazing how instinct kicks in as a different butterfly makes the arduous journey each year, traveling up to 30 miles a day.

Illegal logging in Mexico has reduced the winter habitat for the insect however the Mexican government has begun to crack down on this problem. What can you do to help the monarch butterfly? Plant milkweed, folks. It’s the only plant the caterpillar can eat. Due to toxins absorbed from the milkweed plant as a caterpillar, the monarch does not have many predators. The bright colors the butterfly wears is an advertisement that says, “I’m poison.”  The viceroy butterfly has evolved to mimic the color and pattern of the monarch as a defense although it is non-toxic.

If you spot a monarch butterfly fluttering by, there are websites that would like to keep track of your sightings.  I report my sightings to Monarch Butterfly Journey North, a great website that provides migration updates with maps and provides excellent information on the life of  this special insect.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

15 thoughts on “Magnificent Monarchs

  1. Hi Anne, thanks so much for stopping by and commenting on my Monarchs and Milkweed post. I enjoyed your post, too…and marvel at the magnificence of this creature. I am going to check out the link you mentioned, as well. Jan


  2. My landscape hosts a butterfly garden and Monarch Waystation. In the past two years I raised well over one thousand Monarchs. This year very few Monarchs are in the landscape, yet I am raising as many as I can locate.

    I enjoy this labor of love, yet curse the orange aphid infestation that manifests every year when the Monarchs begin to lay eggs on the tropical milkweed. This year the butterfly weed was completely ruined by these aphids.

    I cannot spray the aphids, as this will damage the Monarch life-cycle, so I am left to hand picking/squeezing the aphids. This process leaves a mess on the plant material, that later blackens. The host plants are stressed, and I am looking for a solution.

    Does anyone have an eco-friendly idea?

    Writing from Central Virginia


    • What a wonderful Waystation you have!

      I don’t know of any solution for the milkweed aphids except from the hand picking or squeezing. I know some folks use a hose after temporarily removing the cats and eggs. Others say some varieties of milkweed are less appealing to aphids. I simply plant milkweed and let nature take it course.

      Maybe readers will post some ideas.


  3. Ann,
    Very nice photo of a Monarch. I would like to point out that the picture is of a MALE Monarch. Males have the “scent pouches” on their hind wings, which are the black dots on the veins.


    • My favorite place to watch them this time of year is in a kayak on the river. Far and near, all heading in the same direction just feet above the water while I drift and admire.


  4. My first of many Monarch crysalises hatched this morning. I have eleven tropical milkweed plants sleeved in the garden with many ‘pillars inside. I have raised a number from eggs stage and when they are large enough, they go back into the garden under sleeves, until ready to bring in again to pupate.

    I saw so few adult Monarchs this season, I am now delighted to find so many ‘pillars on the host plants. This hobby is truly a labor of love and compassion.

    Magnificent Monarchs, indeed!


    • How exciting to have all those babies! Your monarch waystation is more than a hobby, Diane. You are contributing to the preservation of the species. Is there a website to learn more about Virginia’s monarch waystations?


  5. This is wonderful. Thanks for the websites I shall check them out. I am amazed at the way these little creatures manage to find the Milkweed. Three seasons ago I had one little volunteer Milkweed. Last year I had more milkweed and a male Monarch hanging around. This year there is even more milkweed and not only a male Monarch, but a female too. A few weeks ago I saw her depositing eggs and joy of all joys this week I had three big fat caterpillars. Suzanne

    ps they say that last winter fifty percent of the Mexican overwintering Monarchs died due to the extreme cold.


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