I snagged this pic showing the Monarch in its chrysalis, caterpillar and adult butterfly from here: http://www.monarch-butterfly.com/ That link will give you a detailed explanation on the life cycle of this marvelous transforming wonder.
When I was a kid I grew up in a suburb of Peoria Illinois. This little burb was called Sunnyland. Having lived there through my childhood years this place still holds a warm place in my heart and I would love to go back to those days of innocence, where time seemingly stood still and we had 4 distinct seasons to enjoy with snow every year, and lots of places to take a sled to. Growing up there was awesome. I really enjoyed living there as a kid.
Part of that enjoyment was the Monarch butterfly. Yeah, kind of strange to you perhaps, but this butterfly was an ingrained part of the experience of living there. It was a predictable yearly occurence that happened without fail. The butterflies would show up, mate and lay their eggs on the milkweed plant which would grow just about anywhere that failed to get mowed for a while. After a few days the eggs hatch into little Monarch caterpillars that would gorge themselves on the milkweed. After a couple of weeks of getting fat on milkweed the caterpillar goes into morph mode, and begins the chrysalis stage.Throughout 10 days in the chrysalis, the caterpillar goes through an incredible metamorphisis and emerges as the Monarch butterfly.
I witnessed this event many, many times. One year, can’t recall exactly but I think it was the fifth or sixth grade, we studied this Monarch life cycle, followed up by a local expedition where us kids scoured the local milkweed for chrysalis. We all harvested one, very carefully, by taking the stem of the milkweed and placing it with chrysalis intact into jars we all had, for the exercise. Once the chrysalis had hatched from its coccoon, we all released the butterflies into the wild. Some things just tend to stick with you… What I did not remember about the life cycle was that there were four generations of Monarch’s every year. The first three generations the adult butterflies only live from 2 to 6 weeks, and then mate for another generation. The fourth generation is the one that migrates.
Now many years later, perhaps even a few decades later (geez I’m getting old), the Monarch is in serious trouble. Through several distinct problems, the Monarch numbers have dwindled to a very low level. From cold wintering grounds in Mexico killing them off, to severe culling of the milkweed by farmers, and road crews cutting roadside milkweed down, to drought reducing the availability of food plants for the Monarch’s migratory journey. All of these factors combined have led to a huge decline in the migrating Monarch’s. There are places where the Monarch is established, and they do not migrate, they just stay there year round. So the Monarch isn’t endangered as a whole, just the migrating Monarch’s, the ones I grew up with.
I can only hope that conservation efforts, and there are some both here and in Mexico, will help to restore the migratory Monarch to its former numbers. I would really be disappointed to see this icon of my youth fade away into another statistic for the history books.
Full story on the threat to the Monarch here: