This has been a good summer for monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) in my area of Minnesota. There have been several dozen adult butterflies here in the past week and throughout July I saw many larva on milkweed plants. I always have large patches of their larval host plant milkweed growing in abundance in several places so there is plenty for them to eat. The first larval generation has passed into the adult stage. The second generation is emerging now although some larva still remain like the large caterpillar in the photo above. It will soon form a chrysalis and then metamorphose into an adult butterfly.
Yesterday, I found a monarch butterfly that had just emerged from its chrysalis. The day was windy and the insect had been blown to the ground where it became tangled in the grass. I gently lifted it up placing it on a milkweed plant. For a few minutes the butterfly folded and unfolded its wings pumping fluids through the veins to expand the wings to full size. Then it flew to a plum branch, fluttered some more before flying away. In a few weeks from now it will join millions of other monarchs for the species’ annual migration to holm oak, pine, and oyamel fir forests of the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve in a remote area located in eastern Michoacán and western Mexico State in Mexico. It is a place they have never been to before yet they find it. There they will rest for the winter in preparation for the spring migration north. When the monarch butterflies return to Minnesota next June they will be four or five generations removed from last year’s butterflies. The new arrivals will lay eggs on fresh milkweed leaves beginning the the cycle again.