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Return of the Monarch Butterfly to KBS PDF Print E-mail
Written by Lisa Duke   
Friday, 26 July 2013 17:29

This past week at the Kellogg Bird Sanctuary we have been spotting an increasing number of Monarch butterflies. When you visit, you can see them passing from flower to flower either in our Pollinator Garden or along the Lake Loop trail around Wintergreen Lake. I have a special interest in butterflies because ever since I was little I would assist my grandmother, who is a member of our garden council, in the rearing and tagging of Monarch butterflies for educational purposes. It has been really cool spotting so many Monarchs around the Sanctuary’s property!

Monarch on Swamp Milkweed

Monarch butterfly getting nectar from Swamp Milkweed

The Monarch butterfly’s lifecycle consists of four different stages that happen throughout their short lifespan. Adult Monarch butterflies will return to Michigan after wintering over in Mexico in late June to early July.  Once the adults have returned for the summer, they will seek out a safe place to lay their eggs. The plants that the Monarch will lay their eggs on and that their caterpillars will consume is called their host plant. The Monarch’s host plant is milkweed, which has three subspecies: Swamp Milkweed, Common Milkweed, and Butterfly Weed. Monarchs will lay their eggs on either of these plants, although they prefer Swamp Milkweed. Swamp Milkweed gets its name because it grows in the swampy areas around small ponds and lakes. Common Milkweed grows more in fields, but will also grow on the banks of lakes. The Sanctuary has perfect habitat for Milkweed to grow and we have tons of it!

Common Milkweed Plant

Common Milkweed

Once the Monarch selects a plant to lay its eggs on, it will lay one egg at a time on the underside of the host plant’s leaves and they can lay up to 200 eggs! The eggs are about the size of a pinhead and are white in color. In approximately 2-5 days the Monarch eggs will hatch and the small caterpillar will begin to feed on the leaves of the plant that it is on. The caterpillars are a combination of yellow, white, and black stripes and will grow in size as they eat more.

Once the caterpillar reaches a certain size, it will stop eating and spin a chrysalis. Monarch butterfly chrysalises have been found in the most interesting places including the sides of buildings and on fences. Their chrysalis’ are a shade of light green and have gold spots near the top. Inside the chrysalis, the Monarchs go through an amazing process so that when they finally hatch from the chrysalis, they are a butterfly! Adult Monarchs will then fly from flower to flower feeding on nectar and searching for a mate. You can tell the difference between a male and female Monarch butterfly by looking at their wings when they land. The males have a small dot on their lower wing, which is a scent gland, whereas the females do not.

You can increase habitat for Monarch butterflies by planting their host plants in your garden or property. It is a great activity for children to watch a Monarch caterpillar grow from day to day on Milkweed and then trying to find where they have made their chrysalis. You can visit this site for more information on Monarchs and you can also buy Milkweed seeds to start your own habitat!