They Have Arrived

They’re back.  The Monarch butterflies, Danaus plexippus, are now wafting through Central Texas, orange and black wings gracefully flit against the Texas sun before alighting at blooming plants for nourishment, sustaining their long flight, continuing their annual life cycle.

Like so many of us, Monarchs face an uncertain future:  climate change, deforestation in Mexico, overuse of pesticides and herbicides in urban gardening and commercial farming in the United States are just some of the challenges to a viable population of these insects.

I am joyful at the first Monarch sighting in spring and then again, in autumn.  Currently, my garden offers a diversity of flowering plants–native and nonnative–in which the butterflies nectar from before they move southward toward their winter home.  In autumn, it’s all about providing blooming flowers for these hungry, hungry butterflies.

In spring, the availability of milkweed (Monarchs’ host plant) is paramount for the hungry, hungry caterpillars.

Female Monarch on Frostweed (Verbesina virginica)

This generation of adults are those last born in the northern parts of the United States and Canada and are now headed to Mexico.

Female Monarch on Plateau goldeneye (Viguiera dentata)

Once these remarkable insects arrive at their destination, they will gather in dramatic clusters by the millions, high up in the Oyamel fir forests of the Sierra Madre Mountains in Mexico. The unique situation offers cold temperatures and high humidity during the winter–the evolved perfect environment for Monarchs’ winter rest.

Male Monarch on Frostweed. The two black marks located on the hind wings, plus thinner black webbing indicate a male.

The adults who overwinter in Mexico are those who will return through Texas (the major migration pathway) next March, laying eggs on a variety of native milkweed plants.  That first (or is it the last?) generation begins the life cycle all over again: adults mate, females lay eggs, the adults then die.  Eggs hatch, caterpillars eat the milkweed, morph to the next generation, the flights resume.  The ancient rhythm continues in leap-frog fashion, northward through spring and into summer.

Female Monarch on Skyflower (Datura erecta)

At some point in August, six generations later, because of a change in light and through a magnetic pull that the Monarchs have responded to for eons, the last set of adults turn southward and begin their 2000 mile journey toward the Mexican mountain firs which await winged occupation.

Stopping briefly as they migrate to Mexico, Monarchs are enjoying a respite in my garden; the first of many arrived a couple of days ago.

I am an appreciative witness to this natural event.

I’m joining today with Anna and her Wednesday Vignette.   Check out her beautiful Flutter and Hum for musings of various sorts.

 

36 thoughts on “They Have Arrived

  1. Your garden has evidently done what it should do at this time of year vis-à-vis the monarchs: attract them. It’s good of you to show monarchs on frostweed (which I already saw flowering a few weeks ago) and goldeneye (which I’ve yet to see flowering).

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    • It’s all part of the plan–evolution’s and mine! My goldeneye is blooming and bright right now, the pollinators having a blast. Next, the finches will arrive and actually, I already see some and some migration/overwintering warblers as well. For me and my garden, it’s an exciting time!

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  2. Oh how exciting with an invasion of butterflies—Monarchs no less!! It looks like they really enjoy that Frostweed too… I’m going to have to remember that plant. I always associate Milkweed with Monarchs, but have wondered what else they are drawn to. Good to know! 😀

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    • Thanks–it’s always a pleasure when they flutter through. The skyflower is lovely, but I’m about to gift it to a neighbor. I don’t quite have the right amount of sun for it. It is blooming this year (yay!) but the shrub is not as, how shall I put this–‘erecta’–as it should be; it’s a bit of a lean over and while blooming, not as lush as it could be in a better situation. The neighbor’s place has more full sun, so as soon as the monarchs are done here and gone, and the neighbor is ready, I’m digging it up. Sniff, but it’ll go to a good home and should bloom even more.

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  3. I saw a butterfly fluttering by at work yesterday afternoon, and wondered if it was a monarch. Your post suggests it well could have been. I’ve not seen the multitudes this year that were around last fall, but we haven’t had any real fronts until last Friday. It’s possible they’re moving south on a more westerly track, too. Last year, great clusters of them showed up around Palacious and other mid-coast areas. You’re right about the goldeneye/frostweed ranges, too. We don’t have any native Viguiera species, but there’s plenty of frostweed around.

    I found a new-to-me DYC last weekend at Brazoria. It was a single dense patch of flowers about 4″ tall and 1/2″ across. The rays were few and short, and the disk flowers formed a dome, like a coneflower — but everything was yellow. Despite the fact that I still don’t know what they were, the bees and flies certainly did — they were all over them, along with some skippers.

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    • Your comment about last year’s migration as prolific reminds me that I hardly saw any. Silly butterflies, one year–east, the next year–west! They obviously know what they’re doing, but they’re around this year and I’m tickled to have them.

      I’ll be interested if you figure out your mystery plant. It’s amazing to me just how many native plants are in existence here in Texas–we enjoy such a wide palette of plants, so lucky! Of course, Texas is a big and varied place, so, there’s that.

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  4. What stunning photos of these amazing insects with their incredible life cycle! I haven’t seen a single monarch butterfly since we came back to the UK. In NZ we would have plenty of swan plants in our garden to attract them. It was fascinating to watch the life cycle.

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    • Thanks so much! I didn’t realize that the monarchs live in the UK and New Zealand and looked it up! Wow, thanks for that information, though I’m sorry you haven’t seen any recently in the UK. They’re fascinating critters, to be sure.

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      • I think the sightings are fairly rare in the UK but the counties of Cornwall and Devon where I live, is a milder climate so more likely to spot them.

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      • This was the source I found on the UK population, very interesting: http://www.ukbutterflies.co.uk/species.php?species=plexippus

        The first page mentions that there’s no known native Asclepias (milkweed) species in the UK, but it was thought that some monarchs had found a source in Kew Garden. I’ve been to Kew several times and chuckled to see some native Texas plants there. What’s exotic in one place, is common in another. I’m glad the British monarchs…butterflies (ahem) found their milkweed.

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    • Those new may be on their way further south. I would imagine that any hatched in far north US or Canada have long since left. It is a treat to see them and I agree, I’d like to see more too.

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  5. I’ve been smiling so much this past week. We first noticed them on Sunday as a family taking a walk through a field. Now we’re looking for them everywhere and there are squeals of delight at a sighting when we’re out and about.

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  6. Hi Tina, it’s Emma, Pam’s niece here – she directed me to your blog. It’s lovely to see the monarchs properly – I saw a couple when I was over in March but wish I’d seen more. We had a mass migration of painted ladies this year – a one-in-ten-year event apparently, and they were EVERYWHERE. Truly fab to see.

    I’ve moved up to Oxford for a year to study conservation ecology (Pam might have mentioned) and am currently watching a red kite wheeling around the sky outside my window. We’re on chalk soil here so the local plant species are quite different to Cornwall – I’m having to learn a whole new load of native plant names! I often think of your beautiful garden and hope you’ve had a good year with the wildlife. All the best from the UK! Emma

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    • Hi Emma–so good to hear from you! Yes, I guess the monarchs would have been migrating north when you were here in March. As I recall, I didn’t see many then, either. But they’re in full force this autumn; Austin is on their main pathway right now. Yay!

      Interesting about your painted ladies and their mass migration. That’s a lovely butterfly, too. We have painted ladies and a related species, the American painted lady, and I see them in my garden, though not so much this year.

      I knew you had moved and hope your studies are going well. I’ve been to that area and well remember the chalk soil. It’s exciting to learn about different species, though maybe daunting at times!

      It’s been a good year in my garden for wildlife and continues to be so. At about 5 this morning, I heard the territorial trilling of a male Eastern Screech owl, so that season is upon us and this morning, a Sharp-shinned hawk winged its way through the trees, scaring all the birds–but thrilling me!

      All the best with your studies–I’d love to know about your progress.

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      • I will keep you posted! We went to RSPB Otmoor on Weds and I saw my first marsh harrier and reed bunting – a proper treat. I remember you saying about your owls; we had three short-eared owls take up residence on the headland at Newquay and because they came out at late afternoon, you were almost guaranteed to see them. Otmoor made me realise I have a long way to go with waterfowl ID – so that’s my next challenge…

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      • Nice. I seem to recall one (or more) of the British garden bloggers I follow had photos of short-eared owls–so cute!

        Lol–I’m not very good at water fowl; they’re all ducks to me. Except for the ones that are herons. 🙂

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