Fluttering around your garden in the early fall, Monarchs seem like delicate creatures, but as Chris explains, these butterflies are built for endurance.
Script by Francie Von Mertens
Migration is in the air, and with it monarch butterflies, true royalty not just of the insect world, but of migration, too. Monarchs show up in New Hampshire in July as migrants completing the last stage of a long journey. It’s a journey their grandparents, or great-grandparents began.
Monarchs by the millions spend the winter in a few forested mountain sites in Mexico. In March, they stir from winter torpor with flight that sounds like a mass of rustling leaves. Soon the journey north begins. This generation completes the first stage. They die soon after reaching the Gulf Coast of Texas and, most importantly, milkweed. That's where females lay their eggs to produce the next generation of migrants north.
Spring through summer, a monarch butterfly lives only a month or so. Then, right about now in fact, along comes the super-generation that will survive through the winter, eight months or so. These are the migrant marathoners that fly thousands of miles back to Mexico.
When you see monarchs high overhead or sipping nectar in local gardens and wildflower fields, you are witnessing one of the most impressive migrations of all. In late summer, days grow shorter, nights colder, and milkweed yellows with age. Monarchs know it's time to go. And they know where to go, to a forested region in Mexico, a veritable pinprick on the global map. Next March this super-generation will stir, soon to begin the first stage of the journey north.
Monarch butterflies have a large and dedicated fan club. Southerners plant milkweed and northerners tend butterfly gardens. And we take our hats off as the monarchs of migration pass by, wishing them well on their most impressive journey south.