It’s A Girl!

IMG_8836The 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.

IMG_8832This 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):

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.


About Eliza Waters

Gardener, writer, photographer, naturalist
This entry was posted in Field Notes, My Photos and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

120 Responses to It’s A Girl!

  1. Wow! Stunningly beautiful photos.

  2. maureenc says:

    Keep safe little lady!

  3. Mike Bizeau says:

    Congratulations. Hope she makes it safely on her journey.

  4. Jet Eliot says:

    Absolutely incredible post, Eliza. Great explanation and documentation of the monarch miracle. Also appreciated your description of the rough road these beauties face.

  5. 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.

  6. Val Boyko says:

    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

  7. Alice Pratt says:

    ❤️😍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!

  8. Widdershins says:

    Congratulations … to you both. 😀

  9. Dymoon says:

    wow Eliza how can you tell it’s a girl?

  10. Joanna says:

    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!

  11. Jim R says:

    Congratulations. Good luck to her. What a long trip ahead.

  12. Rebecca says:

    Wonderful news, Eliza 🙂 x

  13. Kris P says:

    A mini-miracle. Congratulations Eliza! You’re a great godmother.

  14. Denzil - Life Sentences says:

    Congratulations Eliza! A beautiful post of an incredible insect. To think it migrates all that distance is mind-boggling.

  15. Anne says:

    I echo Jet’s comment – a fascinating post! Congratulations on ‘your’ girl!

  16. Cathy says:

    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!

  17. Sue Vincent says:

    What a privilege to see such beauty emerge and fly : Fabulous photos too, Eliza!

  18. A wonderful gift In nature! Thanks for your part Eliza 💕🙏🏻

  19. 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.

  20. jenanita01 says:

    Such a beautiful and rewarding result for all your hard work and dedication, Eliza!

  21. Murtagh's Meadow says:

    She is beautiful. And such an amazing journey they have.

  22. Amazing photos and accompanying text explaining the challenges these beautiful creatures experience. Thank you. 🙂

  23. Kathy Sturr says:

    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!)

  24. Laurie Graves says:

    Exquisite! Also, such a heartening post to read in a time that is not all that heartening.

  25. Congratulations, mama! Job well done.

  26. Birthing butterflies. How wonderful. We are Monarch friendly and I look forward to their visits every year.

  27. Samuel says:

    It must have felt wonderful to see this transformation from caterpillar to butterfly ❤

  28. Dalo 2013 says:

    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.

    • Eliza Waters says:

      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.

  29. bittster says:

    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 🙂

  30. Travelling Vegan Mystic says:

    I enjoyed seeing these when in Calif.

  31. Vijayan says:

    Wow! Amazing post. I have learnt much from your post. The photos are amazing.

  32. AmyRose🌹 says:

    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! 🦋

  33. Lisa Orchard says:

    Awesome photos and I absolutely love butterflies! 🙂

  34. WOW … congratulations! A beautiful butterfly and quest.

  35. Christy B says:

    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

  36. neihtn2012 says:

    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?

  37. da-AL says:

    love so much am reblogging 🙂

  38. da-AL says:

    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 …

  39. Christina says:

    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.

  40. Pingback: It’s A Girl! by Eliza Waters | Sue Vincent's Daily Echo

  41. gaiainaction says:

    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.

  42. LisaDay says:

    Congrats. But how do you know it’s a girl?

  43. Adele Marie says:

    Reblogged this on firefly465 and commented:
    An amazing journey detailed by Eliza Waters.

  44. Diana Studer says:

    So wonderfully encouraging to see that. I remain amazed that a mere butterfly can migrate so far!

  45. Anu sharma says:

    Kudos ! For showing such diligence towards butterflies. You actually described everything and seem worried about her as a mother

  46. Gracefully Global says:

    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.

Comments are closed.