Thanks to the nice weather, I worked out in the yard for a good bit last weekend. As I worked, I saw and heard our normal back yard wildlife — feisty squirrels, black-capped chickadees, house finches, Northern flickers, dragonflies and big yellow swallow-tail butterflies. Then I saw something unusual — an orange butterfly. I assumed it was a Viceroy, because it flew right past the big patches of milkweed we’ve let grow for the Monarchs that might wander through our yard (Bees and Butterflies).
Then I saw another. And another. None of them were landing anywhere in the yard, but I decided to try to photograph them anyway. Maybe one would alight just long enough for me to snap a shot.
As I watched them more closely, I began to have a niggling feeling that maybe I should check my butterfly identification books. In the meantime, I took a few photos.
Monarchs are orange with black stripes. They differ from very similar Viceroys in that Viceroys have a stripe along their lower wing. Otherwise, they are almost identical. So the photo on the left, taken in our back yard, is a Monarch! I’m glad it stopped by.
Starting in March, Monarchs migrate from Mexico and Southern California to Canada every year, reaching their northern limits in late June. We get our first Monarchs about the same time.
There are lots of astonishing facts about Monarch and Viceroy butterflies. One fact about the Monarchs is that, although they migrate long distances every summer, no one butterfly goes the whole distance. Instead, the overwintering generation heads north in early spring. They mate, lay their eggs and die somewhere along the way. The next generation of monarchs hatch and head north. They mate, lay their eggs and die somewhere along the way. It takes at least four generations to get to the northern-most point in the Monarch migration! The fourth generation then makes the return trip south, and overwinters in the same trees its ancestors did last year. As with other butterfly species (Painted Ladies migrate across North America!), nobody knows how they do it.
You can watch Monarchs as they travel at this website: Lerner Monarch Butterfly Migration Map Spring 2018. They even have a site where you can report your observations! What to Report