CREATING A BUTTERFLY GARDEN
Butterflies need water to drink. An inviting butterfly garden should have a shallow water dish set in the ground, no deeper than ½ inch. A bird bath is too deep. Mostly male butterflies like to puddle in damp sand or mud which contain salts and minerals they need for reproduction. They like to wait here for a mother butterfly to stop by. Allow some moistened soil for puddling. Place a few rocks around the butterfly watering site. This will allow butterflies to perch before and after drinking.
Monarch butterflies also have an appetite for rotting fruit. In season, I often place overripe squashed bananas out in the garden for pollinators. Butterflies can drink moisture from fruit. Melons are a good source and juicy rinds are appreciated also. All creatures need good nutrition.
If you plant a butterfly garden be sure that there are some shrubs and trees nearby so the butterfly can fly to cover if it needs to. The monarch butterfly is very light and weighs about the same as a maple leaf or about half a gram. I have seen a monarch fly to a tree when it started to rain. Even a rain drop can dislodge a butterfly where it hides among leaves. Sometimes a butterfly can recover if it falls to the ground but more often than not, a wet monarch will be too heavy to fly. A butterfly needs sun to have dry wings.
THE EGG – HUEVECILLO
The male and female monarch butterfly will fly from Mexico to Texas. There they will mate and shortly thereafter die. The mother butterfly urgently needs to find milkweed to deposit her eggs on. This last act will insure the next generation of monarch butterflies. There are four generations that wind their way towards Canada. The fifth generation is the one that lives the longest and returns to Mexico in early fall. How does the butterfly know where milkweed grows?
The butterfly flits over a field or garden looking for milkweed. Watch the flight pattern and you may see a mother butterfly looking for a host plant. Plants have ultraviolet patterns on their leaves and flower petals making them visible to pollinators such as the monarch butterfly. Humans can’t see this but a butterfly can. A monarch uses a combination of visual and chemical cues to find milkweed.
Once a mother butterfly lands on milkweed, she uses sensory organs in her feet and head to make sure it is milkweed. A monarch may even drum on a milkweed leaf with her forefeet to be certain. The forefeet are located close to the head.
Notice that there are three eggs on the milkweed plant in the illustration. The mother butterfly carries approximately 200 eggs in her stomach. She touches the abdomen to the underside of a leaf and deposits an egg. The mother usually deposits only one egg per plant. There is a reason for this. It is probable that the first caterpillar to emerge from an egg will scout for other eggs. A caterpillar is able to defend its own food territory when there is no competition. Eggs have protein. Sometimes a mother butterfly is in a hurry and may deposit more than one egg on the same plant. This is known as egg dumping.
By depositing eggs on different milkweed plants, eggs have a better chance of survival if something goes wrong. There are many risks to milkweed including: Some plants may not be as hardy as others; a storm could destroy a plant; milkweed might be removed because a gardener thinks it is a weed; a land developer could clear cut a large track of land removing all native plants; farmers may plant monoculture crops, genetically engineered crops and may spray crops with pesticides.
There is a loss of approximately 3,000 acres of farmland each year to development. Roadside crews may use herbicides (ER-beh-syds) which poison milkweed, a plant that grows along roadways, one of the major corridors of butterflies. If there is no milkweed along the migration trail, there will be no monarch butterfly migration. This is why it is so important to let milkweed grow.
I will be publishing the Chatbook over the next few weeks. Photos will be added later when I return to Shell Lake. I had first thought to publish this as a book but after talking with two readers, I have decided to publish the Monarch Butterfly Coloring Book separately. The text with photos will be published on Insectamonarca’s Blog.
A few years ago, the author Mary Ellen Ryall witnessed and photographed the birth of a monarch butterfly in her gardens in Minong, Wisconsin. The photographs are a witness to this mysterious event and depict the monarch butterfly life cycle and the relationship of pollinators to native plants.
The Xerces Society has determined that the Monarch’s migration as “an endangered biological phenomenon.” In NOVA’s film, “The Incredible Journey of the Butterflies,” Lincoln Brower, Distinguished Service Professor of Zoology Emeritus, University of Florida, states that no one knows what that threshold is. He has observed the Mexican Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary over many years.
Brower has seen a shrinking habitat because of illegal logging. Monarch butterflies in Mexico have notably declined compared to when the wintering monarchs were first discovered in the Michoacan Mountains in 1974. The beloved international butterfly faces many threats throughout its migration and it is imperative to save the migration.
Within the pages, butterfly terms are highlighted and Spanish words for the monarch’s life cycle are included in titled pages. Do you have a butterfly garden? Would you like to grow milkweed for the monarch butterfly?
At the end of the Monarch Butterfly Chat Book, you will find a glossary of butterfly terms; works consulted; where to buy milkweed seed; explore other butterfly organizations; and books and Web site links for further butterfly studies.
I won’t post the end of the book or photos until I have the whole project published on the Blog first.