Center: Magnified image of caterpillar on a leaf. Right: Young monarch caterpillar, measures 2.5mm
2 weeks later, caterpillar has grown bigger
LIFE OF THE MONARCH
When it emerges from it’s egg, it is a caterpillar less than a millimeter long. It munches on milkweed and within a week it grows 100 times in size. By the second week, it leaves the milkweed and heads to higher ground. It hangs in a “J” shape and shortens in length. It’s body transforms into a smooth cocoon called a chrysalis. Then 2 weeks later, it emerges a Monarch butterfly.
There are official Monarch butterfly preserves called Monarch Waystations throughout the Americas, including Schor and Greenport Conservation Areas. These areas provide resources necessary for Monarchs to produce successive generations and sustain their migration, such as milkweed and nectar sources.
A chrysallis, the stage between a caterpillar and a butterfly
Having transformed itself many times, the Monarch still has some major feats in its life cycle. A Monarch butterfly born in the northeast during the end of summer will migrate to Mexico, a journey of over 2,750 miles. They travel 50 miles a day. Along the way, they feed on nectar and serve the ecosystems as pollinators. In Columbia County, migration peaks in mid-September. They winter in Mexico and then head north in the spring. It takes several generations of Monarchs to complete the migration round-trip. A Monarch born in the northeast, after wintering in Mexico will head to the southeastern United States. There they will lay their eggs on milkweed before they die. The Monarchs born in the southeast will return to the northeast, their parent’s birth place and lay eggs, thus completing the multi-generational life-cycle.
CONSERVING MONARCH HABITAT
Milkweeds and nectar sources are declining due to development and the widespread use of herbicides in croplands, pastures, yards and roadsides. One of the important functions of CLC’s conservation easements and Public Conservation Areas is to ensure permanent protection of the land and this will protect our local Monarch habitats.
MONARCHS AND COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT
CLC also participates in a “citizen scientist” Monarch research program. We tag butterflies with a small number coded sticker so that scientists can track them and ensure the best Monarch habitat conservation strategies. One of our tagged Monarchs from Schor Conservation Area was discovered in El Rosario, Mexico by Jose Guadalupe Cruz Gonalez. During various stages of his lifecycle, the male Monarch butterfly found in Mexico participated in 7 education programs and taught 138 children about Monarch butterfly biology, migration and conservation.
In addition to being interested in the next generation of Monarchs, we’re also invested in the next generation of conservationists. Throughout the summer, CLC runs free educational programs at day care centers, camps, and libraries, as well a public program. These programs help young people in Columbia County engage with the natural world, in all its beauty and fascination.
Monarch butterflies, notice red/orange color and distinctive black lines.
CLC educator, Jenny Brinker shows kids a butterfly during a Knee High Naturalist program.
View more photos from Knee-High Naturalists Monarch Butterfly Event on our facebook page.