10 Monarch Migration Facts that might Surprise you
While you are undoubtedly familiar with the monarchs’ fall migration, here are 10 interesting monarch migration facts you might not know:
1. The Monarchs aren’t going the way of the Dinosaur anytime soon, but…
There is reason to be concerned about the future of the monarch migration as we know it. This chart by Monarch Watch is a sobering look at the alarming decline of what was once a booming migration:
2. The Monarch Population Estimate is Only…an ESTIMATE⁉️ ?
Over the past decade, too many of us (myself included) have been fixated on the overwintering estimates for the eastern North America population coming from Mexico.
Based on sighting reports after the monarchs’ departure each season, these winter numbers have (at times) seemed wildly inaccurate, which has led me to consider these follow-up questions:
Was the population concentrated in an area that wasn’t covered during the snap-shot count? Are there additional winter butterfly populations located between the southern US and central Mexico? Is there political motivation (endangered species list inclusion) for underreporting? How accurate are current counting methods?
You might have noticed on the population graphic above, that they don’t list a population estimate of the actual number of monarchs …just the number of hectares that the population occupied. (2.84 hectares = 7.01 acres).
Estimates be d@*#ned! Your gardening and raising efforts are making a difference…even if the ‘numbers’ don’t always agree. ?
Keep doing what you’re doing, and let’s challenge the science community to figure out a more accurate method for measuring the true state of the butterfly population.
3. Fall Blooming Plants can Attract Hundreds of Migrators!
Some luck is involved in enticing mass monarchs through your garden gates, but by planting flowers like Mist flowers, Liatris ligulistylis, and the Mexican sunflowers in the following butterfly video, living this dream is a distinct possibility…
4. Monarchs Roost on Trees in Clusters that can Number in the Thousands
This culminates in the roost to end all roosts at their Mexican wintering grounds where they number in the millions. Coastal California also has overwintering roost sites in the thousands. The trees are literally covered in a blanket of monarchs.
Back in the northern US, monarchs also form nightly roosts as they make their way down to Mexico. This one was formed in our Minnesota garden:
However, there is not always safety in numbers, as the following article and video reveals one of the greatest threat to the monarch migration, pollinating insects, other beneficial wildlife…us. ?
5. Some of the Western Monarchs DO Migrate to Mexico
It was reported at the Monarch Biology and Conservation Meeting (2012) that butterflies tagged out west have been found on the forest floors of the Mexican wintering grounds.
6. Monarch Butterflies Glide in Upper Air Masses called Thermals to Conserve Energy
They ride these thermal waves all the way to Mexico. They fly at speeds ranging between 15-25 mph…one tagged butterfly was recently reported on Journey North to have traveled 265 miles in one day.
Recent flight study results posted on journey north revealed that a monarch with 140mg of fat to burn could fly for 44 hours when flapping, but 1,060 hours when soaring and gliding!
7. Monarchs Mysteriously Arrive at the same Remote Wintering Grounds Season after Season
Strangely, none of the returning monarchs have ever been to the wintering grounds before. If there are maps from ancestors in their genetic coding, imagine what this could mean for your monarch butterfly garden at home. Once they find you…
8. The Mexican Forest is NOT a Safe Haven!
It’s estimated that more than 15% of the overwintering population will fall victim to predators that pluck them like berries from trees. These predators include black-backed orioles, black-headed grosbeaks, and black-eared mice. See how these predators are a danger to monarchs in two ways:
9. The Monarchs that Migrate to Mexico in Autumn are the Same Ones Returning to Lay the Foundation in Spring
These mature ladies will mate in Mexico (in late winter) before seeking fresh milkweed plants in the southern United States to start a new spring season filled with the magic of monarchs.
10. Migration Monarchs are Massive
While the wingspan of earlier monarch generations is generally 3.5-4″, most of the migrating adult monarchs have wingspans over 4″…no doubt they’ll need the super-sized wings for the long journey ahead…
Did you know these 10 monarch migration facts? For more info on migrating monarchs and how you can help them get off to a good start at home, sign up for Raise The Migration here
I have been doubly blessed this year to raise Monarchs from the generation returning to Texas last spring, and now raising them as fourth generation butterflies to send on their way to Mexico. I released the first three today and have 19 more chrysalises. I’ve only lived in Lubbock for three years, having moved here from north central Texas, so I have been so pleased and excited to see more and more Monarchs making their way into west Texas. I thoroughly enjoy this hobby and have presented several programs to groups here on raising Monarchs as well as educating people on the plants to attract and host these beauties.
New to Monarchs, but I am absolutely enthralled! I have four milkweed plants, in pots, and plan on many more, as well as other betterfly plants, next spring. Right now I have two chrysalises and a 5th instar cat in my Monarch cage, with a small potted milkweed, in my kitchen. I am in mid Georgia-just norht of Atlanta. The weather is in the mid 90’s-unseasonably hot. Will these three be part of the migratory generation, or will there be one more?
Also, is there a safe way to tag Monarchs?
Hi Kathryn, there might be one more generation in your region…congrats on your raising success. For tagging information:
This year I successfully raised 27 third generation monarchs from eggs. So far I have released 6 fourth generation, with 4 j’s, 9 chrysalids, 3 thinking of doing the j thing and 6 cats at various stages of growth. Most were raised from eggs but a few cats I brought in when small. I just kept them in a separate enclosure in case they were infected but so far all have been good. My success rate for all those I have raised is 97% with which I am quite pleased. For those left outside, their success rate is much lower. I have found 10 diseased chrysalises and several dead cats, mostly attacked by shield bugs. I am hoping the weather holds for a while longer but it has really been cooling off at night so I bring them all inside and put them out again on sunny days. I live in Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada which is on Lake Superior and the weather is definitely cooling off. They should all be gone by the end of the month. By-the-way, I give each of them a name when I release them 🙂
Thank you for all you do to educate people and share your vast knowledge about the Amazing Monarch! I’ve learned so much from you over the years.
Your your comment about “Massive Migration Monarchs with of most of the migrators having wingspans over 4″…no doubt they’ll need the super-sized wings for the long journey ahead… ”
I had never seen a petite migrating generation monarch before last Tuesday and I wondered if you have ever come across one? I was weeding an area that doesn’t contain any milkweed and found this little, teeny monarch on the ground. She was vibrantly colored and fresh looking but fully developed and perfect – when she crawled up on my finger she was barely 2″ across the bottom of her folded wings and I’d guess she had (maybe) a 3″ wingspread? the weather for southeastern Wisconsin was predicted to be nasty so I held her overnight in a baby cube and released her the following morning. Have you ever seen a tiny migration generation monarch before? I thought maybe I had a Viceroy when I researched (it seems she was more Viceroy sized) but before I released her I verified and she was definitely a Monarch. Hope she makes it to Mexico.
Hi Gerrie, they can always be smaller. Monarch caterpillars tend to eat more when the nights grow cooler. The last monarchs we release are typically the biggest…
My butterfly weed has purplish mottling on the leaves. Is this a bad thing, and if so do you know how to prevent it next year?
Hi Sheri, this is pretty par the course for swamp milkweed this time of year. I’m not sure what causes it, but the plants always come back green each spring.
After creating a wonderful butterfly garden this year and helping out with the first couple of generations, I fell ill and ended up in the hospital for a month after 2 major surgeries 3 days apart. I had just cleared my porch of third generation butterflies and resigned myself to the fact that I wouldn’t be able to participate in helping the fourth generation, the most important one. I was released from the hospital and went back home on August 29th. My disappointment was high at being knocked out of the game, so to speak, and my husband knew it. He went out to the garden and gathered together some clean milkweed and about 10 large caterpillars, all that he could find left. He put the milkweed in two vases on the porch shelves with the caterpillars on them. Three of the caterpillars were infected with Tachinid fly larva and had to be destroyed but 7 remain, 4 of which have now turned into beautiful chrysalises. It feels good to know that I’m a part of this final generation, even if it’s only a very small part. If I can release 6 or 7 migrators, that’s a difference any way you look at it. Next year will be so much better!
Toni. Your garden is beautiful. Could you list the names of your flowers and when the best time is to plant them.
What is the time period when monarchs migrate from southern Florida?
I have realeased well over 200 , last 3 will be born in about a week.
It was really excited when 11 to q7 butterflies are born the same day in different cages. Beautiful.
Thank you for creating this community and for your continued encouragement.
Hi Jane, south Florida has a year-round monarch population so no migration to Mexico is necessary.
Hi I’m new to all of the Butterfly info and my question is how do I preserve the chrysalis that I found hanging on my yard waste can? I know its only one but I don’t want to see it disturbed! And we know how those guys handle the garbage cans and how rough they are with them! This is the first one I have ever found, is there anything I can do?
Hi Bonnie, here’s info about: Removing and Rehanging Chrysalides
I live in Port Charlotte, FL and have a beautiful garden three year old butterfly garden. The main butterflies are Monarchs. We have places for them to roost as you have explained in todays article.
My question is- where do they put their chrysalides? We have seen one on the top of our slider door and one on Mexican Petunia plant, but that is it. We have lots of butterflies, caterpillars and milkweed, but do Monarchs have a favorite plant or type of place to become a chrysalis? I have about 80 different plants in the yard, but have space to add other plants if needed.
Hi Sam, lots of place to check: 50 Places to look for a Chrysalis
My friend and I are making a presentation about Monarch natural history and rearing at our local Nature Center in Camden Maine this weekend. I have another question. What percent of the monarch butterflies that start the southward migration in the eastern US make it all the way to Mexico?
Hi Eric, that’s a tough question to answer. There’s still a lot of unknowns about the great fall migration…it was estimated that the population was down 15% this year, but spring sightings have been way up from last year, so there may be other unknown destinations between the southern US and central Mexico where a % of the population migrates to…also, based on weather patterns ad other factors, this % probably changes from year to year.
my friend and I in Camden Maine (mid-coastal) raised and released dozens of butterflies last year from mid summer until Oct 7. I assume the earlier ones continue flying farther north for another generation, and the later ones head south without breeding? When is that change likely to occur here, and what triggers it — day length, sun angle, dropping temperatures, north wind…..? Also, can some adults just hang around where they grew up (it’s lovely here in Maine in the late summer!), and make one more generation without traveling north OR heading south?
Hi Eric, you answered your first questions…the northern and southern migration are never quite the same from year to year…things appear to be running slightly early this year. Adults that have mated could hang around longer, but all will eventually head further south even if they don’t make it to Mexico.
I was hoping to find some helpe on where I might be able to purchase monarch caterpillar caterpillars or eggs. I’ve searched everywhere but most shops sell painted ladies only. We are preparing for a butterfly release festival and would really appreciate any information.
Hi Mary, check out the egg/caterpillar vendors on our resource list:
Monarch Egg & Caterpillar Vendors
How did it go? I know if you have no milkweed around, it might not be a good idea to purchase a bunch of eggs or caterpillars. You have to clean their containers everyday and they eat a lot. Please don’t buy them if you don’t have anyway to take care of them. But, I think it’s amazing people are interested in helping them! 🙂
Isn’t it amagzing how smart GOD is people. Think about it!
I think about it every day. How can anyone believe something like this (and many other things) ‘just happen’? I don’t have enough faith to be an atheist!
God is AWESOME!!! I see Him in all things created. It was Saint Francis that said that all animals, birds, butterflies, etc. are our brothers and our sisters as we share the same Father, God, who created everyone and everything. We must have spiritual eyes in order to see everything and appreciate all God has created. I never miss a chance to observe everything around me. For if man cannot see these things created, he must be blind.
I think about God every time I see a monarch eclose! It is truly a miracle that a tiny egg transforms into a large caterpillar, then morphs into a BEAUTIFUL orange butterfly.
To Audrey Nordstrom, I have never heard it put more perfectly!
Cool, my daughter is actually reading that book right now!
I always say to friends, “how did God know how to do this?” I mean really — the whole transformation is more than amazing. It’s like witnessing a miracle! ❤️??
yes He is – from that tiny egg to caterpillar to butterfly – a marvel in creation 🙂
The miracle of seeing the hand of God everywhere and to watch His handiwork unfold before my eyes. So thankful He is letting me be a steward over some of His Monarchs! Thank you Jesus!
Hi, I live in Lancaster, Pa and had a super successful year with monarch butterflies? . The best in a few years. Really distressed today to find a very large caterpillar on what’s left of my milkweed. It is Oct. 29 so obviously it doesn’t stand a chance of migration. My question is whether or not l might take it to a butterfly atrium? I feel really bad so any information would be greatly appreciated. Thanks
Hi Kirsten, it sounds like it’s probably too late for this caterpillar to make it south without help. You can send chrysalides to a couple people that have USDA licenses in Texas, and they will release the butterfly there. Get More info in this facebook group:
The Beautiful Monarch
Got a caterpillar getting ready to pupate. Found him in the wild so rescued. Live near Dallas, TX…by the time he hatches do you think I can release safely? Can one keep a late season monarch in the house until spring?
Hi Erin, if you still have highs in the 60’s it should have a good chance to head south. Check out this post:
Releasing Monarch Butterflies
Otherwise, it probably won’t survive indoors until spring…
Great website! I planted a butterfly bush last year, and it has finally attracted Monarchs today! I am in a Western suburb of Cleveland, OH, and i’ve been observing at least 5 or so of these gorgeous butterflies just now in the evening hours.
Hi Tony, Yesterday I found a Monarch on the stalk of tall grasses we had just cut down. She stayed all day and is still there this afternoon and has moved only a few inches on the stalk. We live in upstate NY and temperatures are supposed to drop to freezing tonight. Should I bring her indoors so she won’t fall victim to frost? The only flowering plants left in the garden is Autumn Joy and I doubt it now has nectar. Is there anything I can do for this beautiful creature?
Hi Linda, not sure where you’re located but the weather in Albany looks great for release…you could always bring her in overnight and try releasing tomorrow. You don’t mention whether she was injured from mowing down the grass? Hopefully she will be ok…I would not worry about nectar source. There should still be plenty in the region…
I live in Southern Ontario and I’m still seeing tons of monarchs and it’s October 15! Does the warmer weather later into this year make a difference in migration patterns? Will global warming affect the monarch migration? I love seeing them, but am concerned they’re waiting too long to leave because it’s still so nice here, but the weather is going to get cold very quickly. Will they get “trapped” here and is there anything I can do?
Also, I live in an apartment and cannot grow plants. Anything else I can do to attract a few hungry monarchs to stay at my Butterfly B&B before they move on?
Hi Daria, the butterflies still have an entire week of EXCELLENT weather to head south from your region…I would not worry. If you could provide a container plant with nectar that might help, but if you haven’t had a freeze in your region, there should be plenty of nectar still available. Enjoy those late monarchs…
I don’t know much about the monarch butterfly, but I have had one hanging around on my lantana plant the past couple of weeks. I noticed yesterday that it had really slowed down. Not moving to much. It is still alive, but I think it is dying. Obviously not going to make the journey. Maybe it is one that doesn’t go?? It got down in the 30’s last night. Any thoughts?
Hi Cindy, it’s possible the butterfly is not part of the migration generation and was spending its final days in the comfort of your garden…a great honor!
I was wondering if migrating monarchs merely stop overnight then resume traveling the next day, or do they hang around several days if they find flowers they like?
I have had at least 3 monarchs on my Mexican sunflowers the past 2 weeks. Today there are 7 monarchs.
I had around 20 caterpillars on my milkweed around the end of August, then three more in September. I don’t know if these butterflies could be some of my home grown ones, or if they’re migratory. I live in Southern Illinois. Daytime temps have been in the 80s.
Hi Lana, favored nectar flowers can get monarchs to stay for awhile, but how long they stay is also dependent on the weather patterns…when the winds blow from the north they’re on the move…
confused, I was taught that the monarchs that make the trip do not come back but there offspring do.What is the normal life time of a monarch? I have tagged over 100 monarchs this year.
Hi Janet, monarchs normally have a life span of a few weeks. The migration generation is born sexually immature and can live 8-9 months. They will make it back to the southern US to start the first generation next spring.
Is that why all the recent emerging butterflies have female markings? I have been concerned that none of my recent “emerges” have been males. (Eastern shore Delaware – early September 2018)
Hi Sue, I wouldn’t worry about this…raisers go these unusual and unexplained streaks (with male and female monarchs)…there will be plenty of both when they make it down to Mexico
I live close to the West coast of Florida, a few miles north of Tampa. Do the monarchs in my area join the migration or are they year-round residents? Is there a period during the year when I should cut my milkweed back, stop nurturing caterpillars and releasing butterflies?
Hi Jeannine, most butterflies in central and south Florida don’t migrate although there aren’t any studies that would indicate whether a small % of them do. Check out #7 in this post for info about cutting back milkweed:
Fall Gardening Tips
I planted milkweed in my Ontario garden for the first time this year and I was so excited about 6 weeks ago to find something was eating it. I had one cat and I watched it everyday through its stages. I am happy to say that it turned into a huge beautiful monarch and she took flight September 25 at 11:25am. I was wondering if you could tell me if she is the generation that will fly to Mexico or is it too late and if she does make it can you tell me when she will lay eggs and approximately where as I am trying to follow the generation mapping. I am looking forward to watch the process all over again next year. I even planted more milkweed
Hi Janice, coming from Canada in late September, she should be part of the migration generation….congrats!
I have had a successful season with all generations of monarch raising in 2017. Gen 4 ate all my tropical milkweed, but I have two large plants I am letting seed. I live in Dallas, Texas and I just watched a Monarch lay about 30 eggs on these two seeding plants ( 9-19 ).
Here is my question: Do I let these eggs hatch and go into the migration? I assume it will be late Oct or early Nov when they take flight.
Hi Craig, for your region, September eggs are fine. If these monarchs survive, they should successfully join the 2017 fall migration.
Thanks. I now just have to find enough milkweed to feed them.
Hi Tony, I noticed a very drab female laying eggs on Milkweed on Aug 24 2017. That seemed rather odd since it’s usually late September before I see migrating Monarch here in the upstate of South Carolina. Could it be some are just getting an early jump on the migration?
Hi Keith, she is likely a mother to the migration generation and laying her remaining eggs for the 2017 season…
First, thank you so much for everything you do!
This year I seem to have an overabundance of male monarchs. When I release my butterflies, the males sometimes immediately hook up with another male in the air as though they are fighting, I’m not sure what is going on. I have 15 butterflies to release today but I hesitate because I don’t want them killing each other! Any suggestions?
Hi Rae, as long as they are fully dried upon release, they will be able to fend for themselves. I let ours sun dry in mesh cages for 2-3 hours before release…
From the “experts” that I’ve read they say that the Monarchs do not go both ways, one way ticket.
HELLO TONY; I AM NEW TO RAISING BUTTERFLIES. I HAD FIVE CATAPILLARS ON MY MILKWEED PLANT ,BUT ALSO HAD ORANGE FUZZY EGGS ON THE PLANT. I USE ALC0HOL ON THE EGGS , THE BUTTERFLIES WHERE OK. THEN NE NIGHT THIER GONE , WHAT DID I DO ?. THANKS LOUISE
Hi Louise, when you bring in milkweed to feed caterpillars remove any other eggs or insects that you find and rinse the leaves thoroughly…good luck!
Hi Carol, they won’t make it back to Wisconsin (at least most), but they will make it back to the southern US to start the first new generation of monarchs in spring.
I have 15 chrysales in waiting and about 15 small, instar 2-3 still munching away, that are in my insulated garage. I am in SE Michigan and as you know, the weather has been cooling signicantly these past two weeks. My milkweed leaves in my garden is starting to turn purple and a few yellow. Is it safe for them to eat the purplely leaves? I’ve actually been using common mw leaves from a near by school to feed the little ones with, because I’m afraid the dying mw leaves are not as nutritious. I am hoping these guys can make it o Mexico in time!
Hi Tyler, use the best milkweed leaves you have left. There are plenty of good weather windows left for release. In Minnesota, we’ve had some October releases the past few seasons…
I have been raising monarchs for the past 3 summers. I gather eggs from my plants (or elsewhere if I spot them) but gather milkweed for feeding from other sources. I store them in ziplock bags in my refrigerator. This insures I have plenty of leaves for food even when the leaves on my plants are starting to fade.
I live in the Hampton Roads region of Virginia and have seen and helped lots of Monarchs over the past few years. My question is whether these Monarchs, which only come in late late August or early September ever migrate anywhere? I try to make my yard bee and butterfly friendly and I’ve got lots of bees and monarchs, but wondering if what I am doing is helping? Where do my Monarchs go? Just wondering.
Hi Beth, they are either migrators or parents to the migration generation…the first migrators don’t arrive in Mexico until late October or November
I live on Long Island, New York. I started this project with a single egg at the end of July but now I’ve got about 150 caterpillars… every time I go out to get milkweed to feed the caterpillars I’m raising, I find more eggs AND caterpillars and I’m running out of viable milkweed resources because the plants are slowly starting to yellow. At some point I will probably have to resort to feeding them cucumbers & squash but in the meantime, my question is this: is there any way to keep the milkweed from yellowing or extend the life of the plant by covering at night? And also could it help to put florist food in the water or could that possibly harm the caterpillars?
You can keep milkweed in the fridge for up to two weeks layered between damp paper towels in a sealed container. Break the leaves off the stem, wash the leaves, and layer them between lightly damp (not wet) layers of paper towels. This will help keep it fresh, although if it has already started to turn yellow, it might turn a bit more in the fridge. Make sure you let the milkweed warm up to room temperature and dry before you feed it to your caterpillars.
Just a little note. I’m still a “newbie” to this raising Monarchs and Tony’s website has helped me so much. But I live in western MA and have all the blooms on our field milk weed long gone before the Monarchs arrive. This year I started new plants after I had seen the plants in our field grow to about 12″ high. They have only this last week lost their blooms and the plants are much fresher. I think I’ll start them just a little earlier next year as I had a gap between blooming plants that was about 3 weeks. Maybe this can help you in the future.
Thanks for for letting me intrude Tony.
Thanks, Chrissy! Thanks for the response! When you said, “I started new plants”, did you mean that you plant from seed midway through the season, or plant new storebought, or do you cut the plants that are growing? And if the latter, do you cut the stem by half or down to the ground? Any one of those ideas would be great in the future but for the meantime what do you think about extending the viability of the existing milkweed (common milkweed) using the floral food packets that come with flower bouquets to extend the life of cut flowers… would it possibly keep the milkweed from yellowing as fast and maybe even provide extra nutrients to the plant for the caterpillars to benefit from OR could this possibly kill the caterpillars?
Over the past few years, I have been growing 3 varieties of milkweed native to Ontario. I was surprised and pleased that while monarch instars may have a bit of a stronger preference for A. Syriaca, they will voluntarily and happily “chow down” on other varieties, in particular, A. Incarnata. This is great as incarnata is staying greener and fresher as summer is drawing to a close. I have also noticed that well cared for syriaca is staying fresher growing in an area protected from the heat of the intense afternoon sun. I am planning to grow several other native milkweed varieties and will observe for longevity of the plants and monarch preferences
After a dismal 2016 with a successful rearing of the only 6 eggs I could find, I will be releasing monarchs #14 &15 of 32. I saw many more eggs and instars this year than the past two.
Good work everyone!
I also found my own source of milkweed running out with the eggs and cats l am raising. So my sister and l went scouting. We found a feild of hay and alfalfa that was in between cuts full of common milkweed. The owner was more than happy to let us cut milkweed. We go about two to three times a week and fill two 5 gal buckets with fresh cuttings. We inspect for bugs, eggs and cats, wash and cut slashes in bottom stems. They are young and beautiful because of the feild being cut.
We also fould a large lot with electric supply that was sectioned off. The lot was not mowed. Another source of milkweed to cut. We are always scouting. Monarch will not eat anything but milkweed.
You might be aware that those of us in Florida are bracing for Hurricane Irma. We are in Central Florida and have over a dozen chrysalis ready to emerge this week. Forecast has the storm hitting us just at the time many of these beauties are set to be released, end of this week. I have several questions for you. One emerged this morning…should I release her today before rain and winds come? Would you recommend others that emerge later in the week be kept in their habitats until the storm is past? How long can they stay inside before it harms them? Thanks, Tony, for any advice you can share.
Hi Mindy, in the event of a weather EXTREME (which this definitely qualifies) I would keep them until the storm passes. Here’s more info:
How Monarchs Weather the Storm
I recently started “raising” butterflies and what started as just a few is now becoming an expensive hobby. I have roughly 30 chrysalises in containers on my screened porch (I live in the butterfly capital of the world supposedly – south Florida), and another 40 or so caterpillars in various stages on my milkweed plants. I’m lucky enough that I can take them over to Butterfly World because I really do have too many. My question, however, is if after releasing butterflies, do they remember where they were released from? I feel like they come back to lay eggs and that’s why I have so many!
Hi Chrissy, you have a year round population in South Florida (non-migratory) and there is often a shortage of milkweed. So, if you have viable milkweed you should have plenty of monarchs using it….especially as temps start cooling down a bit.
And Might the Monarchs Know?
And might the Monarchs know
the measure of their worth,
the mystery and miracle
their flight upon the Earth?
And how do Monarchs know
from the moment of their birth
the destiny of their short lives
their gift of joy and mirth
to generations of us all
from snap of spring to faded fall
how do the Monarchs know?
How can the Monarchs know
the journey that they face
the countless miles they will traverse
across both time and space
and when they pause to place their eggs
their mission done, they fold their legs
and bid their time to go?
And why do Monarchs know
from the bursting of their shell
exactly where they’re destined next
from whom did they hear tell
from whence this hidden knowledge came
and guided them so well?
And if the Monarchs know
their cycles move from start-to-end
and cycle after cycle, moving end-to-start again,
might they know God, and God know
as they float across the glen
His Monarchs share the beauty
of His love and grace. Amen.
— David R. MacDonald, August 6, 2017
Beautiful poem, David.
I have tears in my eyes David! Watched 7 wing-ed beauties emerge this morning with another 23 waiting. My joy after all the devastation here in Houston. Peace and Love to the humans embracing the wing-ed beauties.
Only those of us who know the joy have that smile……as we do right now.
Beautiful words David.
Very beautiful poem..thoughtfully written…❤ and so true.
David, this poem is so awesome, I am also crying.
Thank you so much for sheering it.
Hello> Thank you in advance. It is Sept 14 2016. I have six caterpillars in various stages, and 2 new chrysalis just formed. I brought in 4 more eggs on milkweed today to raise indoors hopefully to release in Sept and early Oct. I have plenty of milkweed and eggs laid, but was not seeing any caterpillars survive outdoors. Terrible ants, hungry birds and other insects, I assume they are killing the caterpillars. Last year, I brought one caterpillar indoors due to ants attacking it. It did survive and was released after eclosing Sept 23, 2015. Will these late eggs mature enough to be released as butterflies in mid Oct?
Hi Susan, I’m not sure where you’re located but in many regions you should still have a good chance to release before it gets too cold. Make sure the caterpillars are inside on cold nights because cooler temps slow down metamorphosis…good luck!
Thanks, Tony. I am in St. Louis, Missouri. released all 7 of the first ones and now have 4 more chrysalis formed in the house. It is Oct 6. Hope they will be OK released in mid Oct. or whenever they eclose. If daytime temps are above 65, hope they will be off to Mexico!
Wow!! Wonderful poem Tony!! God bless ??
At what point do the monarchs stop laying eggs for the season? I’m in NW Florida and today harvested over 40 eggs off of my plants. Is there a cut off for when they will stop? I’m worried I’m going to run out of milkweed!
Hi Ryan, running out of milkweed is a common issue in Florida…you have to set limits or you’ll go crazy. good luck! PS…you can probably get eggs through November. It depends on weather…
I’m in Florida and had a great spring of following 9 out of 12 caterpillars that I found on my milk weed through to the butterfly stage. The second batch weren’t that good. Now I see some eggs, but only a few. I took your suggestion of planting more milkweed in another spot to avoid the aphids on all plants and it seems to be working. Where do the central Florida butterflies migrate to? Is there a spot in south Florida where we can see them en mass?
Hi Barbara, there is a year round population in central and south Florida. I’m not sure if there’s more in particular regions. I would ask a local butterfly resource about this.
Thank you so much for your invaluable website. I am not sure if you already know about this sight, learner.org, but they have a page that I thought your readers and you might like. Everyone can help to track the monarchs on their journey and also follow their flight. They ask everyone to “Help Monarchs: Report Your Sightings and Track Migration.” Cheers!
Hi Babs, yes, journey north is an excellent resource and I have linked to them on various pages of the site.
When I followed the Monarch Migration this year, the map showed the monarchs split and went either west through Missouri, or east, through Ohio. They avoided Kentucky.
My question is: Will the next generations follow their predecessors and avoid Kentucky on the return to Mexico? Will this be permanent, or is each year dependent on spring weather?
My friend and I have scheduled a Monarch presentation in August through a nature club and Extension Agency, but we are afraid we will have to purchase chrysalis.
I’ve seen no monarchs yet, and actually very few other butterflies. My farm has an abundant supply of milkweed, and I am now careful to bushhog around large patches, but last year I mowed them down, and I think they regrew. Is that correct?
Im concerned that the monarch numbers will be down significantly this year.
Thank you for your helpful information, and for motivating and inspiring so many of us.
Hi Gail, the migration map is just the sightings people reported to Journey north, so I’m sure there were some butterflies that migrated through Kentucky. The numbers are low this season because the March snowstorm in Mexico killed millions of butterflies.
Yes, milkweed is a perennial so it will come back after mowing. The migration patterns change year to year and so do the population numbers. You could see monarchs later in the season, depending on how fresh your foliage is…you might want to cut back some plants so new growth can emerge:
Growing Common Milkweed
I live in Missouri and common milkweed is getting ready to flower. Will Monarchs be laying eggs in June or will it be on their way back in August?
Hi Paula, I would imagine some monarchs stay in your region over the summer. A lot depends on weather patterns and milkweed availability. If you don’t see any over the summer months, your chances should increase during the fall migration. Good luck!
I’m always mesmerised when I watch the Monarchs soar around our garden! My world goes quiet as I watch them fly. I fly hang gliders and have flown with eagles (literally).. The little Monarchs use all of the same techniques and patterns to soar.. I love it. They then change to flapping if they’re in sinking air, strong turbulence or there’s a predator bird or two around.. Great little critters! Miniature Eagles!!
Thank you for sharing that unique perspective. Enjoy monarch season in Australia!
we also had a explosion of eggs after releasing 10 butterflies. we are in San Diego,Ca. my question is will these eggs hatch and should i start my butterfly containers again? I’ve already have 4 small caterpillars but they don’t seem to be eating like my other ones. looking forward to your reply. by the way i really enjoy your website.
Hi Baldry, you are in a region that can potentially host monarchs year-round, so your eggs should be viable. When caterpillars are small, their appetites are less voracious, but if this continues to be an issue there could be a disease or parasite problem. Here’s more info for you:
7 Common Monarch Diseases, Parasites, and How to Prevent Them
I have a question for you…I have had several chrysalis that have gotten to the “clear” stage, where I can see the wings, but it doesn’t come out. Am I doing something wrong? Can I help it out somehow? How long should I wait to give up on it? It is so sad. 🙁 Thanks for your help. Marilyn
Hi Marilyn, if the chrysalis been transparent for 2 days, the monarch’s either dead, or stuck. If it’s stuck, it could have OE infection or be severely dehyrated. You can try to help it out, but the butterfly wings probably won’t expand and dry properly. Here’s more info about diseases and how you can avoid them in the future:
Common Monarch Diseases and Prevention
Thanks for the help. That’s what I was afraid of. But, I’m doing quite well for a beginner, I think. 31 released this summer and 16 tagged and I still have 5 chrylais’. All these from 2 milk weed plants that “popped up” in my yard!! I’m having great fun!!! 🙂
I’ve learned so much from your dedication and education Tony. Thank you! I live in So Cal (near Pasadena). The 12 Asclepia plants I planted this spring produced many cats and Monarchs this summer. The many other plants in the garden are keeping many of them well fed. QUESTION: Do I need to create an “artificial winter” by cutting the Asclepia plants way down to “force” these beauties to embark on their migration? Or does nature know best and leave well enough alone?
Hi Jill, since you live in a continuous growing region you will want to cut back your milkweed plants so they don’t collect OE spores and spread disease to future monarchs. You can stagger the cuttings so you always have a few plants available, but they should all be cut back at some point so healthy foliage can emerge…good luck!
Tony: We have a lot of milkweed throughout our grove/rows of evergreen trees. My husband really wants to mow because the grass and weeds are knee high and taller. I told him he can’t mow yet, because the Monarchs aren’t done laying their eggs (it’s Aug. 24). When will it be safe for him to mow? The milkweed does grow back right? I’m also planning to band some milkweed pods to get the seeds later (when, exactly, should I open the pods to get the seeds?) to plant in my “monarch garden” that I have yet to create. We are also in Minnesota.
Hi Lisa, I think you are probably talking about common milkweed? If so, you’re probably done getting eggs on it this season unless some of your plants started late and still look viable? The plants should come back next spring…
As for the pods, they will start to open on their own…you don’t want to open them prematurely or the seeds won’t be viable. You can put rubber bands/twist ties around them to keep them from bursting before you collect them or check out these seed collection bags on my gift page:
Gifts for Gardeners-Bags for Milkweed Pods
Hi there! I live in Southern Costa Rica and have just started raising monarchs. (My first 3 chrysalises have yet to hatch.) I’m wondering if tropical monarchs migrate North? All the migration information I’ve come across is based on North American monarchs. Thanks 🙂
Hi Liz, monarchs remain in the warmth of Costa rica year round and don’t migrate. Good luck with your chrysalides!
We have two monarch caterpillars that we just noticed today, on two small volunteer common milkweed plants. One plant is about 20 inches tall and has about 20 leaves, the other is about half that size (and the two caterpillars are about the same size- each about 25 MM.). Do I need to worry about providing more milkweed for these two? Do they eat the stems as well as the leaves- the plants seem much smaller than earlier today.
Hi Tom, congratulations on your find. First off, about 5% of monarchs survive outdoors…there are many hungry predators that eat them. I’m telling you this because I get a lot of questions from people asking “where did my caterpillars go?”
It sounds like they should be ok for a bit with the milkweed supply…they will eat stems if nothing else is available. You could search out milkweed in your area, pick some leaves and store them in your refrigerator, but then you would need a raising cage for the caterpillars:
3 Caterpillar cages for Raising Monarchs
Fun article I thought I would share –
Tony, it’s supposed to get really cold here in the Twin Cities tonight and tomorrow night.
I have chrysalides eclosing outside. Will they be okay during these cold nights?
What about other butterflies who haven’t left for Mexico yet?
Yes it’s 50 here in Chicago. My chrysalides are all inside but concerned about the adults in the garden.
Don’t worry about the adults who have had a chance to sufficiently dry their wings and take in nectar over the past few days. They are a lot tougher than the newbies. It’s about 57° right now and there are monarchs fluttering around our garden (our last releases were 2 days ago before the temps took a plunge) Still plenty of time for the monarchs to make it out of the north. Summer’s not over yet!
Four years ago (2011) I collected 42 Caterpillars just looking on the back roads. The third year ( 2012) I only found 15 Caterpillars and the second year (2013) I was very sick and couldn’t go out to look for them. But this year(2014) we found 6 caterpillars and they all turned into beautiful Monarch Butterflies. What kind of space do I need if I want to put in a flower garden to make sure I get some Monarchs around my house and not have to travel the back roads to find some. I would like to make a 30″ x 20″ butterfly haven with milkweeds, butterfly bushes . Is it wise to get milkweed seeds from other states or other flowers that the butterfly’s would want to rest on and fill up before their long travels. Out of the 6 we raised this year 5 were females and only one was a male. What part of the milkweed attracts the mother to lay her eggs on them. What is the best nectar plants do they like once they turn into a butterfly. Please tell me what you think I should plant. I thank you for you advice and your time.
Hi Debra, fall is a great time to plant and start your butterfly garden. I have already started planting and transplanting, and will continue to do so through about mid-October here in Minneapolis. Monarchs typically lay eggs on the bottom of milkweed leaves, but will also lay them in the flower buds, on stalks, and even milkweed pods.
If you are at the starting point, this post will help you get off to a good start:
How To Start a Monarch Butterfly Garden
Have numerous Monarch chrysalids in the garage and all but two of them look normal. Should I get rid of the two non normal ones as they might be problems for those emerging later. Have released 16 so far and have about another dozen or so to release. It is an increase from the nine that I released last year.
Hi Brian, I’m not sure what you mean by not normal, but if they are noticeably deformed I would euthanize them. Your other option is to separate them and see what happens. Congratulations on your successful season!
I have always assumed that monarchs nectar during the time they spend in Mexico. How in the world do they spend all of that time without eating and still have the energy needed to fly back to the US?
Hi Fred, the butterflies have fat reserves in their abdomens. They might have limited nectar sources depending on the weather, but night time temps are cold and can even dip below freezing. Once they leave their wintering grounds, there will be more nectar sources at lower elevations.
So, are the females migrate, they can be mating and laying eggs along the way? How long does it take after mating for the female to deposit eggs? And is there any minimum # of eggs that are laid at a time?
Hi Michele, it depends on whether they have went into sexual diapause or not (which is brought on by shorter nights and cooler days when they are caterpillars). If they are in diapause they will not be sexually mature adults until next season. Some monarchs will mate along the migration pathway and won’t end up completing the long journey.They start laying eggs shortly after mating. Unfortunately, monarchs are not consistent with egg laying. some will come into your garden and leave 1, which another might gift you with dozens. This depends on several factors include milkweed viability, and how many eggs have been produced.
I had females laying eggs in my yard in MIssouri a month ago. I collected about 55 eggs and most are chrysalis now. I released 3 females and one male over the last few days. Today I swear the same female came and laid eggs on my swamp milkweed today! Is this possible? I thought the ones that I release now would head to mexico. Or can this be ones from up North?
Hi Jean, Monarchs can lay upward of 400 eggs, but I’m not sure you would actually recognize the female if she came back. She would probably be considerably worn since the last time you saw her and on her last legs. Here in Minnesota, we had mating monarchs up through last week. Those monarchs will most certainly be depositing eggs as they fly south. Congrats on your eggs!
I also did not know about riding the thermals. I am waiting to have some Monarchs in my garden here in south Texas!
I was pleased to see so many gardens in St. Louis have incorporated milkweed in their design.
Susan, I think this migration is going to be a good one for you in Texas. It has started out much better up north…enjoy the butterflies!
I didn’t know any of the facts except they are declining. It’s amazing the same ones heading south now will be returning in spring. I’m hoping to have a few of my own going soon if all goes well & thrilled if they have a longer than usual lifespan.
Yes Sharen, the long journey the migrators take (there and back) is simply amazing. Good luck with your monarchs!
I didn’t know about riding the thermals. That’s pretty cool and would be my favorite fact. I also didn’t know that most of the males don’t make it back, but we always knew women are stronger when it comes to endurance.
Indeed it’s easy not to realize/know that but once you hear such it makes so much sense considering the distance traveled.
In fact, a coworker recently told me he would look out the window of our downtown office building in the fall and sometimes see them whizzing by…30 stories up. It was a bittersweet thing to hear though because it hasn’t been the case in well over ten years.
It’s a myth that “most of the males don’t make it back”. Tagging at the overwintering sites in California has shown that males live the same or slightly longer than the females; e.g. the record for the longest lived overwintered female is mid-May and the longest lived overwintered male the first week in June.
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