At the Community Gardens of Santa Clarita, we have one Monarch Way Station garden and another pollinator garden. Both gardens grow milkweed and are a place for monarch butterflies to lay their eggs.
Although a number of other butterfly species can be found inside of our gardens through out the year, it is the monarch butterfly that we pay close attention to. Planting milkweed inside our gardens helps to increase the population of monarch's.
Many garden members plant flowers that attract pollinators especially butterflies. Butterflies are important because they are indicators of a healthy environment and healthy ecosystem. Areas rich in butterflies are rich in other invertebrates. These collectively provide a wide range of environmental benefits, including pollination and natural pest control.
Monarch Butterflies: General Information:
Monarch butterflies, Danaus plexippus, are the most beautiful of all butterflies, some say, and are considered the “king” of the butterflies, hence the name “monarch”.Each fall, hundreds of millions of monarch butterflies migrate from the United States and Canada to overwintering areas in Mexico and California where they wait out the winter until conditions favor a return flight in the spring. Monarch butterflies go through four stages during one life cycle, and through four generations in one year.
These milkweed butterflies are an iconic pollinator species and are easily recognizable with their orange, black, and white pattern. They have a wingspan of 3.5 to 4 inches. The monarch can be easily confused to they eye of a novice naturalist with the viceroy butterfly, which is smaller in size and has an extra black stripe across each hindwing. Unlike the viceroy butterfly the monarch butterfly 's flight is noted to be slow and sailing. It beats it's wings steadily and sort of glides in between a few beats. Male monarch's are slightly larger than the females, they also have a black patch or spot of androconial scales (modified scale for dispersal of sexual scent aka pheromones) on each hindwing.
The milkweed that the monarch caterpillars ingest is toxic, as adults the monarch butterflies get their source of food from the nectar of flowers. The milkweed that is ingested by the monarch caterpillars remains in their system making them taste awful to predators. Yuck!
Life Cycle of Monarch Butterflies:
Monarch's can produce up to four generations in one year. These butterflies go through four stages during one life cycle. The four stages are egg, larva (caterpillar), the pupa (chrysalis), and the adult butterfly. The four generations are actually four different butterflies going through these four stages in one year.
In February and March, the final generation hibernating comes out to find a mate. They then migrate north and east to find a place to lay their eggs, this is stage one and the first generation of the new year.
In March and April, they lay their eggs on the milkweed plants. These eggs hatch into baby caterpillars also called the larval stage. It will take about four days for the eggs to hatch. The baby caterpillar spends the majority of its time munching on milkweed. The caterpillar will be full grown at about two weeks and will begin to find a place to attach itself to start the process of metamorphosis. It will attach itself to a stem or leaf and form a chrysalis. The next ten days a rapid change will occur within the chrysalis, after those ten days a beautiful butterfly will emerge. The butterfly will crawl out of the chrysalis and will take some time to pump blood into its wings. Monarch butterflies can not fly unless their body temperature is above 86˚ F. Once the wings are fully pumped the monarch will fly away feeding on flowers and enjoying the two to six weeks of life remaining. Before this generation dies it will lay it's eggs for the next generation of butterflies.
The second generation is born in May and June, the third will be born in July and August. The fourth generation is born in September and October and goes through the same process as the first, second, and third generations except for one part. The fourth generation of butterflies do not die after the two to six weeks, instead they migrate to warmer climates like Mexico and California and live for six to eight months until it is time to start the whole process over again.
Threats & Conservation: If climate change produces colder and wetter winters the monarch butterfly can survive freezing temperatures if they are dry, if they get wet in below freezing temperatures they will die. Hundreds of millions of monarch butterflies are located in the Sierra Nevadas and Mexico, a cold snap during winter can be very devastating to the butterflies.
As the world begins to warm, suitable habitat will begin to move northward resulting in a longer migration for the monarch butterflies. This may cause the monarch's to produce a fifth generation in order to survive, it is unknown whether they will be able to do this with the long journey back to Mexico to hibernate.
Other threats to monarch's include habitat loss, the loss of milkweed in which they depend on as larva/caterpillars to survive. Illegal logging remains a problem today in Mexico in protected areas and is devastating monarch winter habitat.
For more information on Monarch Butterflies or how to register your garden please click on the links below: