The first of the monarchs (Danaus plexippus) I have been fostering on my kitchen counter this past month hatched today and it’s a female. Like any proud parent, I think she is perfect and beautiful! I feel hopeful for her future, but it will be a long road for her, fraught with obstacles. After fattening up on coneflower, Joe Pye weed, zinnias and other favorite flower nectars, she sails 2,500 miles to the Michoacan Mountains in Mexico.
Overcoming human activity such as speeding autos, loss of nectar feeding habitats, as well as excessive cold, drought and predation will be daunting. If she reaches her winter roost site in the few remaining acres of oyamel pine trees (which are cut for their valuable timber by the local people), she must safely survive possible severe cold or snowstorms, predatory birds and mice that take advantage of the bounty of millions of clustered monarchs. If she survives until next Feb./March, she will then fly 500-700 miles north, mate, lay eggs on milkweed and then die. Her legacy will be offspring that repeat this process 3 more times, until her great-grandchildren reach us in July to start the process once again. How can anyone not be impressed by such a lifecycle?
Population estimates in 2013 numbered 33 million, down from a peak of one billion butterflies. A sustainable average is estimated to be 300 million. One particularly cold winter in the 90’s, 95 million died, so researchers were justly worried the species was at risk for extinction.
The good news is that many rallied to save this imperiled species by raising awareness, planting milkweed and other flowers favored by adults, eliminating the use of pesticides and Mother Nature herself gifting them with mild winters and ending the Texas drought that risked the first stage of their northward migration in spring. Last winter’s estimated number was 143 million, about halfway to the sustainable number goal.
This is the first year in many that I have even seen monarchs, let alone had breeding adults in July. While we still have a way to go, with a few more good years, we may reach sustainable numbers once again.
Truly a miracle of nature, this rare evolutionary anomaly makes this unique insect so worth saving. (Only one other insect, a dragonfly, migrates south, but only half the distance as monarchs and without generational changes.)
Below is a slideshow of this girl’s transformation (forgive the fact that some were taken through a glass jar):
There were three successive waves of eggs laid in my milkweed patch this year that I have largely left to fend for themselves. At risk of predation by spiders and wasps (yes, contrary to the myth that eating toxic milkweed makes them immune), I chose to raise a few to increase their chances of survival.
When I think back to when I was a kid, raising monarchs was a fun science project. Today, it has become a quest for species survival.
Wow! Stunningly beautiful photos.
Thank you very much!
I agree, Wild Daffodil! – thank you, Eliza 🙂
Keep safe little lady!
Thanks for the blessing, Maureen. She will need it!
Congratulations. Hope she makes it safely on her journey.
Thanks, Mike, me, too!
Absolutely incredible post, Eliza. Great explanation and documentation of the monarch miracle. Also appreciated your description of the rough road these beauties face.
Thank you, Jet. It helps to understand why I’m so passionate about the cause. They aren’t just an ol’ butterfly!
I heartily agree. Outstanding post!
Thank you, Albert!
She’s a real beauty!
I tried (and failed) to get a picture of one on our afternoon walk today. It was in a big, native planting we walk by every day, and apparently did not want anything to do with us.
Thank you, Sarah. I’m glad you are seeing them in your fields. Yes, they are very flighty and hard to approach. Apparently their eyesight and sense of smell is very good.
I got a good pic yesterday – this one was a male (which I only know thanks to you!). I’m planning to post it this weekend.
Looking forward to it!
It is scheduled for Saturday now!
Thank you for your commitment and passion for the Monarch’s cause, Eliza ❣️What a wonderful post to inspire others. I’ve order my milkweed plants for September planting!in the meantime we are surrounded by swallowtails and bees. Life is especially good when there is pollen still to be found. xo
Thank you, Val. I am definitely passionate about pollinators. 🙂 I hope your milkweed plants bring in many Monarchs!
❤️😍Congratulations, Eliza! You are a wonderful Monarch Mama helper! At “my” nursery today, Wymans, there was a Monarch in the greenhouse & they had 2 BST caterpillars in a Queen Bee box, on parsley. I discovered 3 BST caterpillars on carrot and parsley leaves, yesterday!
Butterflies everywhere, hurrah! Thanks, Alice! 🙂
Congratulations … to you both. 😀
wow Eliza how can you tell it’s a girl?
The males have black dots mid-rib on the lower wing.
Excellent post Eliza!
Thank you very much, Belinda!
Wow! I didn’t know you could tell if they were boy or girl! This actually brings back memories…I kept a couple of Black Swallowtail caterpillars until they hatched as butterflies and then let them go when I was a little!
What a nice memory. I think it’s great when kids learn good stewardship and caring for wildlife. It opens up the world.
Congratulations. Good luck to her. What a long trip ahead.
Indeed. Thanks, Jim.
Wonderful news, Eliza 🙂 x
A mini-miracle. Congratulations Eliza! You’re a great godmother.
🙂 Thank you, Kris. It really does seem like I am witnessing an awesome miracle. Makes me think of the Einstein quote: “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” In case you are interested, full quote here: http://www.awakin.org/read/view.php?tid=255 Such wisdom!
Congratulations Eliza! A beautiful post of an incredible insect. To think it migrates all that distance is mind-boggling.
Thank you, Denzil. It is really quite amazing!
I echo Jet’s comment – a fascinating post! Congratulations on ‘your’ girl!
Many thanks, Anne!
Congratulations! I am so happy you got at least this one through and hope she makes it through the winter to continue the cycle. What a struggle it is for them to survive. They are such beautiful creatures, and your photos of the transformation are excellent!
Thank you very much, Cathy. Fingers crossed she successfully runs the gauntlet!
What a privilege to see such beauty emerge and fly : Fabulous photos too, Eliza!
Thank you very much, Sue. It really is quite miraculous to witness.
I’d love to see monarchs fly 🙂
They flap and sail, probably to save energy, so they appear to glide rather than flutter like other butterflies. Here’s a documentary if you are interested: https://youtu.be/Bp4sbCuynJE
Thanks, Eliza. I’ll watch that…though I’ve watched one or two on monarchs 🙂
A wonderful gift In nature! Thanks for your part Eliza 💕🙏🏻
Thank you, Karen. It feels good to be helping out, however minor the role. 😉
Well done! What a fantastic project. I like your approach, letting them get on with it, but having a fail-safe science project as backup. Great post.
Thank you, Allison. Two more left to go in the nursery. I’m a bit like a mother hen, though, worrying and fussing, wanting the best outcome!
Reblogged this on anita dawes and jaye marie.
Thank you for spreading the word!
Such a beautiful and rewarding result for all your hard work and dedication, Eliza!
Thank you! x
She is beautiful. And such an amazing journey they have.
It really is. Thanks!
Exactly what I felt! Thanks, Derrick
Amazing photos and accompanying text explaining the challenges these beautiful creatures experience. Thank you. 🙂
Thank you, Judy. 🙂
Congratulations! She’s beautiful!!! I am seeing Monarchs in the garden now – favorite is Joe Pye. I have one surviving sprig of Swamp Milkweed among the Joe Pye but I have an ever increasing patch of Common Milkweed out front in my entry. I had to cut several stalks down after a thunderstorm to provide a courteous path for the mail person. I never saw any caterpillars ): or evidence of them, unlike approximately 7 years ago when I first planted Swamp Milkweed and had quite a few caterpillars. I was so excited then, and spoiled, that it was so easy. It must have been a surge in the decline. I have yet to paint a Monarch tribute but it is on my list as I feel lucky to see these beautiful creatures fluttering about. I’m not so sure future generations will be treated to the same sight. Wonderful post Eliza (as usual!)
Thank you, Kathy. We mustn’t give up hope. A few more good years may bring them back. They multiply faster than eagles and whales, and we managed to turn their numbers around. ‘Keep calm and carry on!’ 😉
I have a small nursery of Milkweeds in my greenhouse (:
I’m down to my last two chrysalis, which will hatch in about 10 days. I noticed a caterpillar in the garden today. It has been a good year here for monarchs. 🙂
Exquisite! Also, such a heartening post to read in a time that is not all that heartening.
Thanks, Laurie. We really could use good news, right?
Oh, you bet! Not much good news coming nationally, that’s for sure. Sigh.
Congratulations, mama! Job well done.
Thanks, Marian! 🙂
Birthing butterflies. How wonderful. We are Monarch friendly and I look forward to their visits every year.
A happy event, for sure!
It must have felt wonderful to see this transformation from caterpillar to butterfly ❤
It really was. And now that she has flown away, it’s hard not to worry and wonder about her! 😉
Wow, what an incredible adventure this is ~ the photos are tremendous and to have witnessed this whole process is something I could not even imagine. Brilliant. And now after all of this, you will be able to see her off on something that is even more amazing: a 2,500 mile flight to the Michoacan Mountains in Mexico. Incredible. Great post Eliza.
Thank you so much, Randall. I think I may have saw her today on my coneflower. I didn’t tag her, so I can’t be sure. I expect (and hope) it was.
Congratulations! She’s a beauty.
I’m so happy to have a few flying around the garden nearly every day but have yet to see a wild caterpillar. Seems all those other bugs are very effective in doing their ‘thing’ and making it hard for the eggs to survive.
Just to be safe I went searching and found ten eggs the other day to bring inside and raise. Already this evening I was a little too excited to see that the first one has hatched 🙂
Thank you. 🙂 Isn’t it funny how excited we get when they hatch? It’s like we are kids again! 😉
I enjoyed seeing these when in Calif.
They are lovely, graceful beings to watch.
Wow! Amazing post. I have learnt much from your post. The photos are amazing.
Thank you, Vijayan, glad to know that. 🙂
I am blown away by what you did, Eliza! OMG! I am just so impressed that you have done to the lengths you did for the Monarch. I too have seen more this year then any other other in many long years. Oh for the JOY what those of us are doing to help the Monarch …. it is working!!! Great post and I learned so much from it. Thank you so much for taking the time to not only educate us but for your Heart felt saving Grace for Mother Nature. Much Love! 🦋
Thank you so much Amy. A labor of love, just like what you do every day with your kitties. 😉
Awesome photos and I absolutely love butterflies! 🙂
Thank you, Lisa!
WOW … congratulations! A beautiful butterfly and quest.
Thank you, Denise!
This post is a testament to the amazing creation of life that happens around us day after day! You have not only taught us about butterflies but also shown us their beauty 🙂 Happy Friday xx
Thank you, Christy. Have a great weekend!
This is fantastic news, Eliza, and you deserve it, but still I envy you! I keep looking for eggs but have not found any yet. No sign of milkweed leaves being eaten either. The two Monarch butterflies still fly around once in a while, but time is running out.
By the way, how do you tell a female from a male butterfly?
Thanks, Hien. I wish you had the pleasure of hosting some monarchs. The male has black dots mid-vein in the middle of the lower wings.
I see the black dots now. Thank you Eliza!
love so much am reblogging 🙂
Thank you very much!
Reblogged this on Happiness Between Tails by da-AL and commented:
Guest Blog Post: “It’s a Girl” in Eliza Waters’ exact words
What’s it like to foster parent butterflies? Eliza waters fills us in colorfully …
I remember that about 12 years ago a friend of ours went to Mexico and brought back photographs of the Monarchs completely covering the trees. I’d never even heard of this let alone seem images before. As you say one cannot be anything but awed (in the true sense of the word) by this! Thanks for sharing and I hope your butterfly reaches Mexico.
Thank you, Christina. I hope she does, too!
Pingback: It’s A Girl! by Eliza Waters | Sue Vincent's Daily Echo
Thank you for reblogging, Sue!
How very beautiful and great work to bring them this far Eliza! Enjoyed your excellent information too, thanks for taking us on their life cycle.
Thank you, Agnes. My pleasure!
Congrats. But how do you know it’s a girl?
Thank you, Lisa … the males have black dots mid-vein on their lower wings.
Interesting. Thank you.
Reblogged this on firefly465 and commented:
An amazing journey detailed by Eliza Waters.
Thank you for reblogging, Adele.
My pleasure, Eliza xxx
So wonderfully encouraging to see that. I remain amazed that a mere butterfly can migrate so far!
Thank you, Diana. Monarch migration truly is an amazing feat!
Kudos ! For showing such diligence towards butterflies. You actually described everything and seem worried about her as a mother
Thank you, Anu. There is a lot riding on those tiny wings.
What a wonderful post, Eliza, I’ve learned so much and will never look at these guys in the same way. The pattern on their wings are so familiar and I guess I just take them for granted as being a part of our world, and I appreciate the reminder that they are another example of how nothing should be taken for granted. I met tourists when I was in Mexico last time that talked about visiting them and had stored that away as just another tourist site and hadn’t really considered the back story. But I will now! The photos you shared of their transformation are so cool! So foreign to me having grown up in the desert. Thank you! 🙂 I’m looking forward to sharing this on Twitter.
Thank you so much, Peggy. I’m glad that more folks are learning about this unique and still imperiled species. I really feel invested in their survival. They are so special!
Your investment is inspiring, Eliza. 🙂