Everything you wanted to know about monarch butterflies.
Things I never knew about monarch butterflies, courtesy of Enature.com, a Web site of the National Wildlife Federation:
Monarchs spend the winter in a small forest in central Mexico. They winter in evergreen groves, with up to 20 million monarchs per grove. In February, they start to mate. In late March, as the days get warmer, they fan out across the southern U.S., looking for milkweed plants on which to lay eggs.
Four days later, the eggs hatch, producing caterpillars that feed on the milkweed leaves. In about two weeks, each caterpillar forms its chrysalis and, about two weeks after that, the chrysalis bursts and a new monarch is born.
The new generation mates, lays eggs and dies within a few weeks. But during its life, it moves north as milkweed becomes available in cooler climates. By the end of summer, two more generations of monarchs will have completed the process.
In fall, that generation will head south, traveling about 50 miles a day. By late September, monarchs will be seen along the Gulf Coast of Texas, headed for Mexico. Those monarchs, the ones born up here and in Canada just before their migration south, are the great-great-grandchildren of the monarchs we saw the summer before.
The monarchs that migrate are considerably larger than the three generations they followed and, as they begin their journey, still sexually immature. Instead of mating, they seek nectar-producing flowers to fatten up for the winter.
If you like learning about plants, animals and insects, check out another federation Web site, nwf.org.
Geri Nikolai writes about home and garden for the Rockford Register Star. Contact her at (815) 987-1337 or firstname.lastname@example.org.