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What an absolutely satisfying experience to watch a regal Monarch butterfly nourishing her splendid body with nectar from flowers in your garden. Gardeners who plant a diverse assortment of flowering plants with the intent of attracting pollinators are rewarded when these exquisite creatures grace the garden.
The pattern design of a monarch is magnificent. Bright burnt-orange, large forward wings are attached to a striking black and white thorax. Wings have bold, coal black veins and black margins with two rows of stark white splotches tipped with broad black edging interrupted by larger white and orange splotches; lower wings are pale, dusky orange. The color orange of the Monarch’s wings is a warning to predators that toxins are present and the butterfly will taste foul if eaten.
Viceroy and Queen butterflies are similar species but the Viceroy is smaller with shorter wings, while the Queen is smaller and browner.
Movements of a butterfly are like a dance in air. Butterflies locate flowers with their eyes but smell with their long, slender antennae; watching a butterfly as it flits from flower to flower, it does seem to lead with antennae. Once a flower has been chosen, it lands with its legs straddling the flower since a butterfly tastes nectar and water with sensory hairs on its legs and feet.
Looking closely at the butterfly’s position on the zinnia in the photograph, its slender, black legs straddle the crown of the inner flowers that hold pollen and nectar. Its feet complete the dance by moving around as it seeks nectar.
Monarchs are most well-known for their amazing two-way migration journey. Monarchs migrate for two reasons: migrations to the south are to escape freezing temperatures of northern climates; the return northern migration is to forage for host plants needed for rearing the next generation.
Monarchs can travel 50 to 100 miles in one day; depending upon their starting point as far north as Hudson Bay, it can take up to two months to complete the southern migration to Central Mexico. The monarch destination is the tiny village of El Rosario, which houses the El Rosario Butterfly Preserve, the winter nesting ground for millions of monarchs. The first monarchs arrive each fall by November 1, the Mexican holiday of Dia de los Muertos, Day of the Dead. This celebration coincides with their annual return and folklore says monarchs are souls of ancestors coming back to earth for their yearly visit (journeynorth.org).
Migration dates are estimated by latitude. The latitude of Garza County is 33.19. According to monarchwatch.org the peak monarch abundance for latitudes of 33 is September 29 through October 11. Monarchs arrive early this year as the butterfly in the photo was taken in Lubbock on September 18. Keep your eyes and hearts open for these magnificent creatures.
Some information from National Audubon Field Guide to North American Butterflies