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Monarch Migration, The Journey Begins
September 17, 2018
Pictured is the Moon and Jupiter.
Four planets still form an arch in the southern skies at dusk
Venus is low, near the horizon in the southwest.
Followed by Jupiter in south to south west, Saturn is almost due south.
Mars is East to south east.
Watching the planets drift across the sky throughout the year gives me pleasure.
Also pictured is an escapee, or possibly someone no loner wanted their pet and released it.
This is not the first parakeet I've seen visit my feeders.
Always with a flock of sparrows.
It is to wild for me to catch.Another busy week.
Akita made a visit to the vet.
She has severe allergies, after 13 years, now she has allergies.
Spots have developed on her, and she has licked her front feet bald.
A shot, and some pills, and another visit on the 24th.
She is already looking better.
Snickers went to the groomer.
There are three pictures of her and a dog treat.
So many times she will not eat it right away, but sits and guards it.
If Keet or one of the cats come near she growls and snarls in her high pitched voice.
We call her a Tasmanian devil as she sounds so much like one.
Fur kids, they bring so much joy and laughter.
At the bottom is a picture of Sophie loving up to Karen, this is almost a nightly thing.
I have seen more Monarchs visiting my yard this year than the previous six, or seven years combined.
Far from the glory years, but still a hope for them.
Last Friday we managed one more trip to the beach.
The water numbing, but the trip was more for the ambivalence than anything else.
Part of the enjoyment is watching the Monarchs slowly migrate by.
Lake Michigan's shoreline is a natural migration trail and this year has been short of spectacular.
For the few hours we were there, there was non spot flutter bye action.
Hundreds were spotted drifting by.
More in ten minutes than I would see in a whole afternoon in past years.
What a joy.
Also, we were blessed with a few shore birds.
A couple of Piping Plovers and a handful of Sanderlings.
Diminutive birds that scurry along the shore, feeding on insects and small crustaceans.
I write on this almost every year, however still needs our attention.
Monarch Butterflies (Danaus plexippus):
The monarch is the most recognizable of butterflies to most people, and it is one of the largest, with a wingspan of up to 4 inches across.
It is the only butterfly that makes an annual migration both North and South like the birds.
However, it is never the same butterfly.
Yet, we wait for the yearly event.
So what is it that makes this butterfly so intriguing to all of us?
Does it have something do with all the memories that we had with this visitor in our gardens along with its striking brilliant orange and black wings?
They are difficult to miss when they are floating on the wind and through your flowers.
If you live along the migration trails, feel blessed as you witness one of “Nature's” true marvels.
There are very few predators that attack this butterfly as it is foul-tasting and poisonous due to the presence of cardenolide aglycones in their bodies.
This substance is obtained from the milkweed plants when the caterpillar initially consumed its leaves before the chrysalis stage.
Birds try to feed on it and find that it is not to their liking.
We all enjoy the presence of butterflies in our gardens and try to find all sorts of nectar plants to attract them.
Flat flowers like Zinnia, Sunflower (family of plants), Cosmos, Pincushion plant, and others.
Flower heads filled with multiple tiny flowers like butterfly bush, butterfly plant, Verbena, Sedum and others.
However, without host plants for caterpillars, there will be no butterflies to enjoy the nectar filled offerings.
It is peaceful to see the many different types going from one plant to the other with no care in the world.
However, it is their winter activity that sets the monarch apart from all other species of butterfly.
The Epic Journey Begins:
Migration may not seem all that amazing to us as we see it in many different bird populations almost year round.
But this little delicate butterfly has to migrate up to 2,500 miles to its wintering place in Mexico.
All monarchs west of the Rockies migrate to southern California, mostly in the Pacific Grove and Santa Cruz areas.
Virtually all monarchs east of the Rockies migrate to the Mexican states of Michoacon and Mexico.
The migration itself can take up to two months, longer than most of their adult life spans.
But, it is the monarch that is born late in summer and early fall that does not reproduce right away and can live up to seven months.
The last generation of the summer enters into a non-reproductive phase known as diapause.
During diapause, butterflies fly to one of many overwintering sites.
Diapause is the delay in development in response to regularly and recurring periods of adverse environmental conditions.
Diapause is not only induced in an organism by specific stimuli or conditions, but once it is initiated, only certain other stimuli are capable of bringing the organism out of diapause (length of day and temperature comes to mind).
As they wake up, immature organs grow and they grow into adults, ready to reproduce.
The generation that overwinters or hibernates, generally does not reproduce until it leaves the overwintering site sometime in February and March.
Once again, when the late summer and early fall Monarchs emerge from their pupae, or chrysalides, they are biologically and behaviorally different from those emerging in the summer.
You might say they are like adult sized kids.
Big enough, but not able to reproduce right now.
The shorter days and cooler air of late summer trigger changes.
In the northern extremes of its territory, this occurs around the end of August.
Even though these butterflies look like summer adults, they won't mate or lay eggs until the following spring.
Instead, their small bodies prepare for a strenuous flight.
Otherwise solitary animals, they often cluster at night while moving ever southward.
Like birds, they take off when there is abundant food and warm weather.
No pushing the panic button to head South.
But, if they linger too long, they won't be able to make the journey; because they are cold-blooded, they are unable to fly in cold weather.
40 degrees above zero and they are paralyzed.
Fat, stored in the abdomen, is a critical element of their survival for the winter.
It is the new offspring that make the trek back north.
This migration is still a mystery today for many scientists as the butterflies that migrate south are never the same ones that head back north.
Even though none of them ever make a round trip migration, they still know the exact migratory path to take on their return.
It is the God given trait they are born with that guides them in the right path in their circle of life.
It is the great, great, great grand kids of these butterflies that wintered over, that now spend the summer months in the States and in Canada, and the last generation of late summer and early autumn will begin the journey all over again.
There are many monarchs now that are gearing up to make this amazing migratory trek south within the month.
Here in Michigan, Monarch Migration is in full swing.
At the very bottom of Monarch Migration, you will find a time table for your latitude.
When you see them in the garden over the next few weeks, try and put yourself in their place for a moment.
Can you imagine what it would be like, to be so small and delicate, yet have the endurance to fly nearly 2,500 miles to over-winter in a southern location?
To a place you have never seen, yet you know you must get there no matter what.
Populations are well below the Billion plus, that once made the trek south.
Only a fraction of that number exists today and an estimated 20% of that will perish along the way.
Still fewer survive the winter.
Now toss in winter storms, fires, and predators while you sleep.
Those aren't great odds.
Still, those that survive manage to gain weight, and lots of it.
up to 60% more weight than when they first took flight.
How is this possible?
To gain so much weight and still be able to fly?
You can always help the Monarchs, by offering nectar rich food and more important, host plants like the milkweed family.
For many wild creatures, loss of habitat is the number one cause for their decline.
Glyphosate and other herbicides have wreaked havoc on Monarchs and all insects that rely on wildflowers for food.
Maybe that battle will come to some kind of settlement too.
It isn't too late to plant some host plants this fall, for next spring.
For more facts on migration, migration time schedules , tagging, flight, survival and so on, you should read
A Few Monarch Facts.
Jim Lovett, at Monarch Watch Websitehas this to say, "It’s been more than a few years since we have seen a monarch migration as promising as the one that is taking place at this time (early September)".
That is some Fantastic news.
Well, it is time to fly for now.
Before I go, here is your positive thought for the week.
"What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the master calls a butterfly".
Amen to that.
"Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come".
"Treat the earth well:
It was not given to you by your parents,
It was loaned to you by your children.
We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors,
We borrow it from our Children."
Ancient Indian Proverb.
Your friend indeed,
Better yet, have them sign up so they can receive their own letters.
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