The journey of the Monarch butterfly is one of the most amazing natural events on earth. This Spring, an estimated 140 million Monarchs will awaken from their hibernation in Mexico and begin a journey North into the United States and Canada. This migration will span several generations and will cover as much as 5,000 miles.
Along the way, female Monarchs will lay eggs and another miracle of Nature begins. Those eggs do not hatch into butterflies, but instead a caterpillar emerges.
These caterpillars only feed on the leaves of the milkweed plant and in just a few days will eat up to 25 leaves. That's one heck of salad! After the caterpillars are fully formed they enter the third stage of their life cycle called the pupa.
In this stage, the caterpillar forms a chrysalis, or outer shell. Once inside a metamorphosis occurs and all of those caterpillar parts become butterfly parts. It takes seven to ten days for this amazing transformation to occur.
The fully formed Monarch butterfly then takes flight and continues its journey, living for another 2 to 6 weeks before the cycle begins again.
Regrettably, the monarch population has been drastically reduced in recent decades. This is due to habitat loss from development and the use of agricultural herbicides that have decimated the milkweed plant. Remember, the milkweed is the only plant that gives the Monarch caterpillar what it needs to make its amazing transformation from caterpillar to butterfly.
Fortunately, you can help. The milkweed is a beautiful plant and will grow almost anywhere. You can plant these in your gardens and flower beds and become a supporter of the Monarch in it's long journey. You can get seed packs from several non-profit organizations including: saveourmonarchs.org and monarchwatch.org.