Okay, this is the second entomology post which makes all of the posts so far about entomology. But probably I will write about other things later! (?)
Anyways, the Monarch Butterfly is pretty much the coolest. This fragile-winged, brightly-colored lepidopteran is, as the name suggests, considered the “King of Butterflies.” Danaus plexippus goes through four generations in one year. The first generation hatches in the south and then fly out on an incredibly long journey north, seeking milkweed plants to lay their eggs on. The second two generations hatch in northern climates across North America, including New Hampshire. These live their lives, reproduce, and die in two to six weeks. The fourth generation is born in the north and then embarks on another epic, thousands-of-miles journey south, to Mexico or Pacific Grove, CA.
Monarchs grow and summer here in the north, where I study, and over-winter incredibly close to my home town- funny how we migrating beasts seem to like similar conditions and similar locations…
Here’s a list of a few of the awesomest things about Monarch butterflies:
1. Their coloring warns away predators- bright colors often signal poison or a bad taste, and the high-contrast black and orange pattern on Monarch wings definitely gets the message across.
2. They actually are poisonous, or at least terrible-tasting if not deadly. The milkweed that their larvae (caterpillars) feed on contains cardiac glycosides, chemical compounds that can actually stop a person’s heart if ingested in high enough quantities. The caterpillars take this stuff up and use it as their own chemical defense.
3. Some individuals fly as far as 2,500 miles to get to or from a wintering site.
4. Monarchs roost for the winter in the same trees every year… even though they’re not the same butterflies each year, but four generations removed!