Although more than five years has passed since I attended the impressive IMAX presentation, Flight of the Butterflies, I’m a supporter and involved participant with anything related to these regal descendants of Danaus, mythical king of Egypt and son of Zeus.
A year after viewing the memorable documentary my interest was further piqued when Sam, one of our activity directors, established a show-and-tell project in the town hall of our retirement village. This presentation allowed me to see first-hand the intriguing development stages of the monarch butterfly. When Sam suggested our community establish a Monarch Waystation, I jumped at the opportunity to become involved. Likewise, I signed on when we were encouraged to establish our own Monarch Waystations.
As winter’s snows began to melt and spring’s buddings dotted the landscape, I planted three pots of milkweed seeds and by May the seeds had become thriving plants that I transplanted to my small garden space. Next, I had my garden spot recognized by EDA as a Monarch Waystation. My maiden venture, while successful, became mostly a learning experience.
2019 has brought me increased involvement. Instead of planting my milkweed plants in my yard, I kept them on my patio making it easier for me to monitor visits by female monarchs. Last winter I purchased a cage where I could place my tiny caterpillars and observe the monarchs’ metamorphose from a dot no bigger than the period at the end of a sentence into a monarch butterfly eager to join the migration exodus to the mountains near Mexico City.
Here are some of my photo journaling observations from May – September 2019:
Among the thousands of plants in our world the monarch butterfly chooses only the milkweed plant as its host. (This plant is growing on my apartment deck.)
The female monarch lands on a milkweed plant:
In three to five days the white dot, attached with the monarch’s excreted glue turns gray:
Can you spot three itty bitty greyish caterpillars? Each one of them emerged from a monarch’s egg. As you can see from the opened laced leaves they are hungry!
In the LARVA stage the caterpillar becomes a voracious eater. He eats so many leaves until his skin, like a little boy’s clothes, gets too tight. The caterpillar loses his old skin four times and each time nature gives him a new skin. When the caterpillar is two-inches long, it stops eating and searches out a protected branch.
The PUPA (CHRYSALIS) stage is depicted here as a green object that looks like an unripe acorn. After shedding its skin for the fourth time it hangs down its head, forming the shape of the letter J. He begins to shrink and shrink. The caterpillar, now hidden from our view, remains in the pupa stage for 10 – 14 days.
When the chrysalis looks like this picture you know a butterfly is about to emerge. The chrysalis stage takes from 10 – 15 days.
You can’t see it but I have a monarch butterfly in my hands and am about to set him/her free. I waited 24 hours before releasing the butterfly giving it time for its wings to dry.
Some of my freed monarch’s lingered a while in my garden before spiraling upward toward the heavens.
There goes my monarch!
What started as a tiny dot is now a beautiful butterfly. He/she is now ready to begin its 3,000 or more miles to his winter haven in the mountains near Mexico City — it’s only beginning! If his journey is successful, he’ll join millions of other monarchs who choose this spot to endure the chills of winter.
Senior retirements years are determined by the choices we make. I personally enjoy becoming involved in meaningful projects bigger than myself that enhance the survival of our planet.