Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Monarchs Abound

Monarch butterflies have suddenly become more abundant than ever before at Blue Jay Barrens.  During a typical summer, I’m used to seeing a few Monarchs each week.  Things pick up a bit during the fall migration, but this property is outside the primary Monarch migration route, so I usually don’t see multiple butterflies during that time.  This year I’ve been seeing Monarchs on a daily basis, sometimes several at once.  Many of those sightings are centered around the Milkweed plants in front of the house.  The flowers have passed, so that’s not the reason why they are drawn here.

The Monarchs circle the Milkweeds, occasionally setting down for several seconds before moving on.  It’s not always easy to see what they’re up to.

This is a common perching position.  While clinging to the edge of the leaf, the Monarch probes the underside with the tip of its abdomen.  Just a brief stop and then it moves on.

In most cases, an egg is left behind.  With luck, this will be an adult Monarch by next month.

Monarchs depositing eggs on the Common Milkweed near the house is something that happens every year.  This year the Monarchs are leaving their eggs on several other members of the milkweed family, which is something I’ve rarely seen them do.  I watched this Monarch visiting a patch of Butterfly Weed and noticed that its brief visitations to the flowers had nothing to do with nectaring.  I headed over to see if I could find any eggs.

I got sidetracked by the discovery of Monarch caterpillars already present on the Butterfly Weed.  These plants are growing in an area that was mowed in late May as part of a Sweet Clover control plan, so the plants are at an earlier stage of growth than most others in the area.

There were a lot of droppings on the leaves beneath the caterpillars, but it was difficult to see where they had been feeding.  Then I noticed the short stubs at the base of the flower clusters and realized they were all that was left of the consumed flower.

Uncommon at Blue Jay Barrens is the Swamp Milkweed.  That’s to be expected in an area that is primarily classified as a xeric environment.  A few Swamp Milkweed plants survive in sand and gravel deposits along the creek.  This is a shaded, mostly wooded environment that normally doesn’t attract open field travelers like Monarch Butterflies.

The Swamp Milkweed flower head is more erect and less dense than that of the Common Milkweed.  Each flower in the cluster has room to display itself as an individual.

The side veins in the leaf come away from the main vein in an acute angle that’s plain to see.  While admiring the leaves, I noticed that most were displaying some familiar holes.

Monarch caterpillar on the Swamp Milkweed.  This is the first time I’ve ever found Monarch caterpillars on this species.

I went on to count eight caterpillars on this single plant.  I wish them luck in their development.  Their survival depends much on the weather.  A heavy rain storm can quickly bring the creek to flash flood condition and that would lay this plant flat.  The plant can survive that type of treatment, but the caterpillars would probably be lost.  This unprecedented breeding effort by Blue Jay Barrens Monarchs would almost make you believe that the butterflies were aware of their declining numbers and were doing their best to turn the trend around.  I’m just happy to have this opportunity to enjoy such a marvelous creature.


  1. I'm happy to read a positive report on Monarchs. So many are not.

  2. Hi, Marvin. I hope this same thing is happening in many other locations.

  3. I'm so glad to hear someone is seeing lots monarchs. None here so far for the past two years.

  4. Hi, Furry Gnome. I hope things improve and a few Monarchs wing your way yet this year.