Meet Maggie the Monarch!

On a warm Tuesday morning, August 18, 2015, a baby was born at Zergott Garden Center!

Butterfly 15.JPG

 

Maggie, as we named her, slowly emerged within 20 seconds from her protective chrysalis (pupa).  She unfurled her colorful wings, shedding her clear, tissue-like chrysalis “womb.” She hung around on her Swamp Milkweed leaf for about a half an hour as her grateful audience gathered around quietly.  When her wings were ready she took flight!  It was the first birth of this type at Zergott’s in over 25 years of business.  What excitement we had!

You can make your own Monarch nursery by planting the host plant of Milkweed (Asclepias spp.) What a wonderful way to teach your children or grandchildren about parenting and help the environment too!

Don’t forget there are many other types of beautiful butterflies to coax to your garden!  Make sure you provide host plants for the larvae, water, shelter from predators, open areas for basking in the sun and nectar plants for the adults: Black-eyed Susan, Butterfly Bushes, Butterfly Weed, Coneflower, Daisies, Daylily, Lilacs, Monarda, Phlox, Sage, Verbena, Yarrow and Zinnia, to name a few.  Stop in to Zergott’s to check out our selections!

Cheaper by the Dozen!

Update!  As of September 17, 2015, we have had 16 fledgling Monarch butterflies emerge and take flight from our Garden Center!  We have named them: Maggie, Molly, Mary, Michael, Marty, Micki, Matthew, Minnie, Mo, Max, Miles, Miracle, Milo, Maude, Mortimer and Morgan.  Our staff nurtured the Swamp Milkweed host plants with regular watering and sunshine.  We protected them by removing detrimental insects, like Oleander Aphids (yellow) and Milkweed Bugs (black and red) through careful trimming.  No insecticides were used!  We collected the seeds from the splitting pods for future cultivation.  We watched Monarch butterflies as they took flight , occasionally resting on nearby blooming perennials or pine trees before they flew off into the sunny skies of September.  Sadly, our chrysalis watching moments were over.   All that remained were the inch-long, tissue-thin, torn-open, transparent chrysalis which hung from leaves, branches and arbors.  We were grateful that we helped add more Monarchs to the fleet that would eventually head south for the winter.

Complete Metamorphosis (From Egg to Larva to Pupa to Adult.)

Monarch butterflies lay eggs that hatch into striped caterpillars (larvae).  The tiny caterpillars go on a feeding frenzy over the next 2 to 3 weeks, reaching about 2 inches at maturity.  They will completely devour the Milkweed leaves, but the sacrifice will be worth it.  Mother Nature would be proud.

 

When the caterpillars have grown enough and  shed their skins several times (molting), they pupate, or spin silk girdles (chrysalis) around themselves as they hang from the milkweed leaves.  The small, light green, pod-like chrysalis (pupa) blends in with the color of the milkweed leaves, which is nature’s way of protecting the growing baby in the weeks ahead.  Later the vibrant colors of the Monarch’s curled wings can be seen through the almost-transparent chrysalis.  The pupa pushes through the chrysalis, peeking out slowly.  Then it emerges as a full-size, adult Monarch with orange areas, black outlining and white spots.  The adults fly for short distances to feed on nectar from flowers and find suitable homes for the eggs they will lay.  So the cycle of life begins all over again.  

 

Monarchs can produce 4 generations during one summer.  Sadly, most Monarch butterflies only live one to two weeks.  Since they eat poisonous Milkweed and their bodies store the poisonous toxins, they are distasteful victims.  So in this way, nature protects her own.

Weather

If Monarchs are lucky enough to survive the ravages of the cold, wet weather, freezing temperatures will kill them. They need body temperatures of at least 86 degrees to fly.  Monarchs will sit in the sun or quiver their wings to warm up.  Few butterflies fly on cloudy days

Habitat

Monarchs must have Milkweed host plants for the survival of the species. Since they migrate south the loss of trees limits their wintering habitat.  It can take up to 2 months for them to complete their journey to winter habitats like Mexico and California.

 

Predators

As the larvae emerge from their eggs they often eat their nearby eggs.  Hungry insect predators like ants, mites and spiders also eat the eggs.  In the larva stage, they are prey for ants, wasps, flies , spiders, assassin bugs and some birds.  Only tiny wasps will eat the pupae.  Adult butterflies will be eaten by orb weaver spiders and birds: Cassin’s Kingbird, Rufous-sided Towhee, Starlings, Chestnut-backed Chickadees and Scrub Blue Jays.

Dangers

Do not use herbicides and pesticides, which can damage the eggs and larvae.

 

By Rose P. Zatezalo

Our thanks to Nicole Horn for her fascinating photographs.  

Posted on September 3, 2015 .