• Sandra

Saving the Monarch Butterflies

My father, Doug, just turned 80 and has always been a nature lover. When I was a young child it was nothing for him to take my older sister and I out to a swampy area on a Saturday morning to get a close-up view of snakes, turtles, frogs, birds and butterflies in their natural habitat. I’m not sure how much I appreciated these adventures at the time, but I now treasure the memories.

Dad is avidly doing his part to save Monarchs – spending countless hours caring for them through their natural evolution process from egg to butterfly. The following was written by him and gives insight into his mission to save the Monarchs.

Mission: Monarchs

The monarch butterfly sanctuary El Rosario is located in the mountains just a short distance from the village of Anganqueo, Mexico. Each year millions of these butterflies travel from their summer homes in the United States to overwinter there. Depending on where they begin their venture, they might travel over 2,500 miles to reach El Rosario.

When I visited the sanctuary a couple of years ago it was an awesome sight seeing thousands upon thousands of these beautiful orange and black butterflies clustered on the trees growing at the sanctuary. However, it was very unsettling to witness the thousands of dead Monarchs blanketing the ground as a result of the below freezing temperatures.


Unfortunately, the monarch population has also been declining over the years due to the decimation of their habitat as a result of herbicide use and clearing of land for farming and construction. It has been estimated the monarch population has decreased over 970 million since 1990.

You can help this butterfly recover at least part of its former number by providing, and not destroying, the common milkweed. I realize many people consider this plant to be unsightly on their property, but milkweed is the only plant the female butterfly will lay her eggs on, and the newborn caterpillars will eat! So please give it some thought before removing milkweed.

Life Expectancy

Life expectancy of a monarch butterfly born during the summer mating season is only 2-5 weeks. However, those born in late summer after the breeding season ends, can live up to seven months. This additional life span permits this last generation to make the journey to Mexico, where they’ll survive the winter, and then begin their return trip north come spring.

These over-wintering butterflies will only make it part of the way back as they will be stopping shortly after flying over the border to lay their eggs on southern milkweed, and then die. Once this new generation hatches, and transforms into an adult monarch, the process continues a couple of more times.

The butterfly you see flying around on your property in early spring is not the same one that left home last fall, but, it is a distant relative none-the-less.

The Process

I live in Central Wisconsin and raise monarchs, it is a very interesting and rewarding hobby. My wife and I own a home at the edge of the Village of Scandinavia where we have a prairie with lots of milkweed growing.

Upon the arrival of the first monarch I begin checking each leaf of each milkweed plant for eggs. Upon locating an egg, the leaf with the egg is removed and placed in a plastic container.

Once the egg(s) hatch and the caterpillars form, I make sure there is plenty of fresh milkweed leaves available for them to eat and that the container is clean. (It is estimated that only 1% of the 400-500 eggs a female lays during the course of her life produce an adult butterfly). In approximately 10-14 days the caterpillar attaches itself to the lid of the container and transforms into a chrysalis.

When this occurs, the pupa/chrysalis is removed and attached to a horizontal wooden rod located inside a glass aquarium. The aquarium, of course, has a screen cover so the adult butterflies can’t escape.

Adult butterflies will hatch in one to two weeks. At that time, they are carefully removed and placed on a flower in the prairie so they can begin eating the nectar they need to survive. People often ask why remove the caterpillar from the milkweed? The reason for doing this is there are many predators, especially hornets, that enjoy a tasty caterpillar meal.

During the course of the summer mating season there will be three generations of monarchs. As previously noted, each adult will live two to five weeks in which time it will mate, lay eggs, and die. Only the butterfly from the last generation, which happens sometime in late August or early September, will make the long journey to the sanctuary in Mexico.

Prior to releasing the butterfly I placed a small coded sticker on one wing of 25 of the butterflies. You can learn if the monarchs released in Scandinavia made the trip to Mexico, and were subsequently discovered by someone, by visiting the website monarchwatch.org. Look for the codes XNA900 to XNA924. Those are the Scandinavians. Have fun.

Written by Doug Watson

I hope this article gives you a better understanding of the plight of the monarch!

If you are a nature enthusiast you might also enjoy my post John Muir: Nature Quotes to Inspire.

Peace, love and creativity ~ Sandra

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