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Monarch Butterflies, the Journey Begins.
September 19, 2011

(Wild Turtle Head now in bloom.)

It's that time of year again.

At least in the north country.

Weather patterns begin a huge transition as summer becomes fall (September 23rd).

Early last week gave us temperatures in the 80's followed by high temperatures in the 50's and scattered frost on Friday.

Temperatures are supposed to rebound into the 70's this week.

Things are still growing around here, but for some the growing season is over and clean up begins.

Last Monday we had a day trip to Petoskey, Michigan (northern part of the lower peninsula).

Not only is this one of our favorite spots to visit, but we also have friends up there.

The picture is at the quaint Bay Side Park that borders the Little Traverse Bay of Lake Michigan.

Always a favorite spot to have lunch.

The water felt pretty good and there is a state park just around the corner...

Yeah, I had to get wet for possibly the last time this year.

Up North is always a special time.

I had to take this picture of one of the many young toads that call our yard home.

As you can see, it climbed up and perched itself right on the zucchini plant that hangs from a large pot.

I had to take the picture.

In case you haven't heard, expect the price of peanuts and peanut good to increase.

Word has it that the peanut crops in Georgia have taken a hit from the drought.

The weather hasn't helped out peanut crops in Texas and Oklahoma.

When ever supply and demand play a part, you can always expect prices to increase.

I have no clue what the cost of peanuts for bird feeding will be, but I have read that peanut butter could increase by 30% as early as October.

How time flies.

It seems like just yesterday that fledgling goldfinches took over my yard.

It has been three to four weeks already and I an still enjoying the hungry cries of feed me.

I call it a happy sound, as it invades my yard and gives us something to listen to when little else is singing or chirping.

Now the adults are changing colors.

I'm sure you have noticed this too.

I still have a couple of hummingbirds that are non stop as they continue to plump up for the journey south.

I wont be surprised if they are gone by this time next week.

For new readers, hummingbirds are unique in many ways.

they don't migrate in flocks and when they do begin the migration trail, it is during the day, where as most bird species congregate and migrate during the night.

Juvenile hummers also have the ability to migrate on their own.

Yes, "Nature" has given them the ability to know when to fly south and where to go.

Without parental guidance or assistance from other birds.

Pretty special huh?

Migration south is on the leisurely side,

Fly awhile, stop to feed and maybe lounge around for a couple of days.

Fly south some more, and repeat the same process.

Birds that rely on insects and nectar migrate before other birds, but generally take their time.

As long as the weather cooperates and the food sources remain, there is no reason to hurry.

As long as there are plenty of flowers (your gardens play an important roll) an some insects, hummers are good to go.

In the years of early frost or bad storms, your feeders become a very, very, important source for them.

It is wise to maintain both, a garden ad feeders, where possible.

Juvenile hummingbirds aren't the only creatures that fly south on instinct alone, Monarch butterflies do this every year.

In late summer and early fall, every monarch in the United States and Canada starts a journey and not a single one of them have been to the winter grounds, and not a single one of them will make it to their place of birth/hatching.

Today's article is once again on Monarch Migration and the Epic Journey.


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.

They are also known as one of the milkweed butterflies, as their sole source of food is the plants in the milkweed family (host plants) when in its larval stage.

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 into our gardens.

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 has begun.

At the very bottom of Monarch Migration, the Journey South, 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.

On any given year, an estimated one billion Monarchs may start the migration south.

About 20% or 200,000,000 make it.

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.

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 Monarch Migration, the Journey South, and, A Few Monarch Facts.

By all means, read and study up on the Monarch Butterfly from as many sources as you can.

Monarch Watch is a plethora of information.

Well, it is time to fly for now.

Before I go, here is your positive thought for the week.

God Bless

What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the master calls a butterfly.

Richard Bach

Amen to that.

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.

1 Cor.5:17 (NIV)

"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,

Ron Patterson

PS. If you enjoy these letters, please forward them to friends, family and co-workers.

Better yet, have them sign up so they can receive their own letters.

Gardening For Wildlife.

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