At my job at Creekside Gardens we have a butterfly house that opens in June every summer. So in addition to taking care of the many plants we have I also take care of our 500+ butterflies! We keep them all in a screened in outdoor butterfly garden that is filled with nectar plants and everything else the butterflies need to survive. The majority of our butterflies are Monarchs because we are trying to increase the overall population of them. Each butterfly has its own host plant that they will reproduce on and then feed off of as caterpillars. The Monarch host plant is milkweed, also known as asclepius, and because of the decline in this plant it has been harder for the Monarchs to survive. All over people are getting the message “Save the Monarchs and plant milkweed!” and in the past two years their numbers have increased. The butterfly house is a safe place for these critters to live and also for people of all ages to come visit and learn about them.
What happens to the butterflies in the winter?
Most species of butterflies will overwinter here and remain in the caterpillar stage but the Monarchs are the only species that migrate from here to Mexico. Every year in September we have a butterfly release event that celebrates the Monarch’s 3000 mile migration to Mexico! Throughout the summer here the Monarch goes through three generations; the first two only live for 3 to 4 weeks where as the third generation can live from 6 to 9 months! This allows the Monarch enough time to travel all the way to Mexico. Thousands and thousands of Monarch butterflies reach Mexico’s Oyamel Fir Forests. When they get there they completely cover the trees and begin the reproduction process all over again so they can make their way back to us the following summer. Last summer at Creekside Gardens we released around 550 Monarchs to make their journey. If you would like to know more about monarchs visit the National Geographic website.
It is truly a magical experience to watch these beautiful critters go through each of their life cycles. They are beautiful living pieces of art created by nature. It is amazing what they go through for such a short life span with some butterflies only living for two weeks.
Life Cycle of a Monarch
The first image starting from the left is the egg stage which lasts up to 3 days. The next two images are the caterpillar stage lasting about 2 weeks, but the one is right before the caterpillar sheds its skin to form the chrysalis. The chrysalis stage is the next three images and this stage can last up two 2 weeks also. As time goes on the monarch chrysalis becomes clear and then the butterfly emerges head first with little wings that will expand after drying in the sun.
All of the life cycle photos were taken by me along with the photos below.