Exciting year for the Monarch

Published 7:00 am Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Did you know you can tell male and female Monarch Butterflies apart? The male has a small spot on each of its hind wings that does not occur on the wings of females (Photo by Gregory Nordstrom)

Did you know you can tell male and female Monarch Butterflies apart? The male has a small spot on each of its hind wings that does not occur on the wings of females (Photo by Gregory Nordstrom)

By Patricia Drackett
Director of Crosby Arboretum

This is an exciting time of the year, when the Monarch butterflies begin their migration toward the oyamel fir forests in central Mexico and we have the chance to observe them. Several times over the last week, I spotted an orange butterfly drifting by. Although I did my best to look closely, I still wasn’t sure if I was seeing a Monarch!
Personally, I have difficulty telling Monarchs apart from another orange butterfly common to our area, the Gulf Fritillary butterfly. Once butterflies land on a flower and begin to sip nectar, I find them much easier to identify.
Do you know the difference? If not, go to your favorite Internet search engine, and locate a photo of both the Monarch and the Gulf fritillary butterfly so you will be able to tell the difference between these two species.
Gregory Nordstrom is one person who possesses the patience for butterfly observation, and he has spent many years photographing Monarch butterflies. Gregory and his wife Becky raise these butterflies and enjoy sharing their passion with others. On Saturday afternoon at 1:00 p.m., they will be giving a program at the Crosby Arboretum.
Both children and grown-ups will enjoy seeing their collection of videos and slides documenting the process of a monarch caterpillar forming a chrysalis and transforming into a butterfly. Immediately following this one hour program, a gallery opening will take place in the Visitor Center Gallery, showcasing Mr. Nordstrom’s photographs which will be on display through the end of November. The opening event is free to the public, and light refreshments will be served.
Fans of Monarch butterflies will enjoy visiting the website https://www.learner.org/. Here, you can keep current on the fall butterfly migration. Weekly reports are posted, and migration can be followed all the way until the Monarchs begin to arrive in Mexico in late October. The website also includes maps with monarch butterfly sightings. You can even report your own sightings! This helps gather important data for scientists studying Monarch migration.
Last year, Arboretum volunteer Amy Nichols made some interesting observations of Monarch behavior along the Mississippi coast, which she found coincided with recent research emphasizing the crucial need for fall nectar sources to provide fuel for Monarchs journeying to Mexico.
Driving much of the coastal Mississippi highway last fall when monarchs were being reported along the beach roads, Amy noticed that in the areas that were highly maintained, with manicured lawns and few flowers, Monarch butterflies were exhibiting agitated behavior and appeared to be searching for nectar, rising to great heights and then zooming in on their targets.
However, as she drove further west, she observed that Monarch behavior was very different. In the many vacant properties which were the result of Hurricane Katrina, she saw butterflies lazily nectaring on blooming “weeds” in the overgrown lots.
How can you provide for Monarch butterflies in your own garden? Know that in the fall, these butterflies require nectar, and plenty of it, to fuel their upcoming journey to Mexico, and provide fall-blooming nectar plants.
Interestingly, the adult Monarch butterflies making the fall migration to Mexico will not be laying eggs. They have their reproduction development put “on hold”.
Butterflies emerging in the spring or summer months may live about a month or so, but Monarchs born in this last generation will live as long as eight months! After overwintering in Mexico, they will return to the United States in the spring, and will be searching for milkweed to lay their eggs on.
To coincide with the Monarch life cycle, your garden must contain nectar plants offering nectar “fuel” for fall migration, and both spring-blooming nectar plants and milkweed in early spring when they return and will begin to lay their eggs.
Mark your calendar for “Life Cycle of the Monarch Butterfly” this Saturday, September 3 at 1:00 p.m. with Gregory Nordstrom. Cost for non-members is $5, and $2 for non-member children. Please call 601-799-2311 to register.
Our fall calendar of events will be posted later this week at www.crosbyarboretum.msstate.edu. The Crosby Arboretum is located at I-59 Exit 4 and is open Wednesday through Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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