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Monarch Butterfly
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Monarch Butterfly

Facts about the Monarch Butterfly

Family: Nymphalidae
Weight: less than 0.5 g
Wingspan: 9.3 to 10.5 cm
Lifespan: 9 months

  • Orange wings with black edges
  • Underside of wing paler than the top side
  • Head and thorax black with white spots
  • Small antennae with bulbous tips

The North American monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) is divided into two distinct populations. The eastern population, which breeds in the Eastern U.S. and south-eastern Canada, migrates to Mexico for the winter. The western population, breeding in the western U.S. and southwestern Canada, spends winter along the Californian coast.

Legendary wanderer

Among all the insects of the planet, the monarch butterfly is beyond doubt the most widely travelled. During its autumn migration, the monarch migrates 4,000 kilometres from as far as southern Canada to central Mexico. This small and fragile-seeming insect can cover more than 100 kilometres in a single day.

Metamorphosis

For the first two weeks after hatching, the caterpillar, with its recognizable black and yellow stripes, feeds exclusively on milkweed leaves. After moulting five times, the larva retreats into a cocoon it spins itself. Two weeks later, the metamorphosis is complete, and the new butterfly is ready to take flight.

Sir or Madam?

Males and females are distinguishable by their wings. The dark veins of the female’s wings are thicker than those of the male. On the male, two distinct black spots appear on the hind wings. In mating season, these spots, which have a sexual function, emit pheromones to attract females.

Pretty but poisonous

By feeding on the toxic leaves of the milkweed, the monarch caterpillar itself becomes poisonous, thereby protecting itself from a number of predators. The poisonous effect diminishes as the butterfly ages, however the vivid orange colouring of the wings usually remains enough of a deterrent to keep enemies away.

Penchant for nectar

Unlike the caterpillar, the adult butterfly does not eat milkweed leaves. Instead, it drinks from deeply coloured flowers rich in nectar. With its proboscis, it also sucks in juices from leaves and fruit it finds along its path. When it arrives at its wintering site, the monarch will have multiplied its weight by a factor of six, allowing it to hibernate without feeding.

Eggs by the hundreds

When hibernation is completed, males and females attract each other by secreting an odorous substance. The male dies shortly after mating, while the female, two to three weeks later, lays several hundred eggs on the undersides of milkweed leaves. After four to 12 days, the eggs hatch, then the female dies in turn.

Long-distance migrants

Monarchs born in Canada in late August are the only butterflies to make the two and a half month journey to wintering sites in the mountains of Mexico. In March, when the weather improves, they mate again before continuing the migratory cycle back to the north.

Predators

Toxins in the monarch’s body protect it from most predators. However, certain birds such as the grosbeak and the oriole will readily make a meal of it. In hibernation, monarchs can become easy prey for spiders, ants and mice.

Threats

The monarch is highly vulnerable to changes in its environment. Poor weather conditions can have a devastating effect. Human activities such as logging upset its habitat and leave the butterflies exposed to harsh winter conditions and predators. Herbicides are also harmful to the plants that host the larvae and to the nectar that sustains the adults.

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Comments

La chrysalide

Par h, 2012-09-22, 22h20

La chrysalide dont il se forme est très fragile. Après quelques jours elle devient transparente ci qui nous permet de voir ses belles ailes oranges parsemé de petits points noirs. Sur la chrysalide il y a une belle ligne dorée avec en-dessous un trait noir. La chrysalide est fait de la peau de la chenille. Bref en tout cas cet animal est vraiment phénoménal !

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