Believe it or not, fall is a great time to watch butterflies. Why? They are getting ready to migrate. Can you image the delicate Monarch butterfly winging its way 3000 miles south from the northern states to Mexico where it winters over? In the spring their offspring migrate back north. The Monarchs are not the only migrators; many other varieties also head south. I didn’t know that butterflies are “cold-blooded” and cannot survive winter weather. (https://www.thebutterflysite.com/butterfly-migration.)
Question Mark Butterfly
Boothbay (Maine) Botanical Garden’s Butterfly House. August 10, 2020.
What should we looking for during our fall butterfly watch?
- Check your flowers–the butterflies are furiously gathering nectar to get ready for their southward trek.
- As dusk, look for clusters of Monarchs roosting in bushes.
- Check the skies and watch for the butterflies heading south.
When the internet first came to the classroom, I discovered the Journey North website. It tracked the northern migration of the Monarchs. It was so cool because the tracking was done by ordinary folks who reported sightings to the website.
Journey North is still going strong, and now they track many different species.
What a superb activity for parents or grandparents to do with their children and grandchildren. Pick a species, watch its activity on the Journey North site, look for a first sighting of said species in your own area, and then report it to the website. This type of project encourages kids (7-97 years) to become citizen observers of our natural world and help out scientists collect data as well.
Let’s get back to the Monarch and its fall behavior–it’s fascinating. As you know they emerge from their chrysalis stage in late summer or early fall.
You can see that the Monarch is close to emerging.
When they break out of the chrysalis they look fully mature, however they are in something called the diapause phase. Not reproductively mature, they will fly to Mexico before they can breed.
This diapause phase helps them live long enough to migrate south. A breeding Monarch’s life span is only two to six weeks, but the hormone deficiency during diapause allows them to live up to eight months.
You have probably heard that we are in danger of losing the Monarch butterfly. In the last 20 years, the eastern Monarch population wintering over in Mexico has declined by 80%.
Here are two reasons for their decline.
- Habitat loss–they thrive on milkweed which has been plowed under or tarred over for construction purposes. Plus, many consider milkweed a weed and pull it up.
- Climate change–as CO2 level climb, the milkweed becomes toxic to the butterflies.
Lots of people are starting to plant milkweed in their garden, but there is a hitch. Many of the milkweed starter plants sold commercially are from Mexico and contain toxic cardenolides. Not good for the Monarchs. So…if you want to plant milkweed, look for a species native to your area. Read more about the plight of the Monarch on this National Geographic website.
Taking pictures of butterflies
If you are out looking for butterflies, you are probably going to want to capture them with your phone’s camera. Here’s a hint: You want to focus on the butterfly and blur the background. You do that by tapping on the screen on the butterfly. On an iPhone, a yellow box appears. On Androids, it often a circle.
Kate Furbish Preserve
Notice in the image above that the yellow iPhone camera focus box is right on the butterfly and the background is blurry so as not to distract the viewer from this lovely critter.
Mitchell Field–Harpswell, Maine
Invite butterflies into your yard
Here are some websites with information on how you can make your yard more welcoming to our pollinating butterflies:
All of the wonderful images in this post come from BoomerTECH Adventures guide, Chris Toy. He is founder of the Maine Butterfly Conservatory. Visit their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/mainebutterflyconservatory.