Mega Monarch Migration

A while back I’d read that this year was good for the Monarch Butterfly, Danaus plexippus. From Canada, through the mid-west states of the United States, and now in Texas, Monarchs are on the move in healthier numbers than in recent years. I saw my first autumn Monarch back in August, earlier than normal, but I never complain when I see a butterfly, especially a Monarch. Throughout September, individuals wafted through my garden, drifting up and down in gentle butterfly fashion, alighting to nectar on whatever flower caught their fancy.

In the past week, the amount Monarchs visiting my garden has exploded to numbers I haven’t seen in years–if ever.

On blooming, mostly native Texas perennials, there are 10-20 fluttering beauties sipping the good stuff from the flowers’ offerings.

It’s been many years since I’ve seen this number of Monarchs and I’d forgotten the soft sound of many butterfly wings as they whoosh from their feeding perches: joyful for the gardener and full of promise and life for the insect.

The Monarchs are nectaring on a variety of flowers, but wings-down their favorite is Frostweed, Verbesina virginica. I’m grateful that I grow a number of these tough native plants which produce blooms that Monarchs and many other pollinators love.

Monarchs are also fond of Gregg’s Mistflower, Conoclinium greggii. This charmingly fuzzy ground cover perennial blooms throughout summer, but the height of its blooming season is September through November–just in time for the Monarchs.

Interestingly, most of my close up photos are of male Monarchs. The two black dots on the hindwings indicate a male. Also, the black segment veins on their wings are thinner than those of females.

It’s not only the Monarchs that are gracing the garden, but scads of other pollinators are out in full force like this cousin-to-the-monarch, the Queen Butterfly, Danaus gilippus.

Monarchs and Queens resemble one another in their similar coloring, adorned with black veins and white dots, but Monarchs are larger than Queens. Unlike Monarchs, which we Texans only see during spring and autumn migration, Queens are familiar in Texas gardens throughout the year because they don’t migrate. It’s common that Queens are mistaken for Monarchs, but check out this great tutorial on how to tell the difference between the two.

Monarchs are fueling for their continuing migration to Mexico for winter. Other flowers they nectar from include this native Turk’s Cap, Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii,

…and the lush blooms of the Mexican Orchid tree, Bauhinia mexicana.

To witness the results of a successful year for this beleaguered and endangered creature is heartwarming, but it also validates my decision years ago to use mostly native plants in my garden and to always plant for the benefit of pollinators and other wildlife.

A garden is at its best when supporting life.

Bienvenue et au revoir: Wildlife Wednesday, November 2019

It’s November and my garden is still in active flowering and life giving mode.  In recent weeks I’ve said a happy howdy y’all to a resurgence of Gulf Fritillary butterfly larvae and a slightly regretful, but ultimately joyful so long ’til next spring to migrating Monarch butterflies.  That’s the wildlife gardening way: seasonal change is more than an onslaught of blooms or a conversion of foliage color.  It’s also about the cyclic lives of those dependent upon plants for their survival, as well as the fostering of a healthy environment in which wildlife will thrive.

I’m pleased to report that there are scads of Gulf FritillaryAgraulis vanillae butterfly larvae currently chowing down on my passion vine foliage.

Welcome to the passion vine buffet!

I’m fine with the dining on the leaves, but I wish the cats would leave the budding blooms alone.

Many Gulf fritillary larvae are busily munching, when earlier in the season there was a dearth of larvae activity, which you can read about in my September Wildlife Wednesday post.

I was perplexed at that time, because adult butterflies were clearly laying eggs and some caterpillars were hatching and working the vine.  But there were few caterpillars surviving to chrysalis stage and at least some were clearly parasitized during their later instars.  That the foliage wasn’t eaten as vigorously as is typical piqued my curiosity, but after some observation and reading, I concluded wasps were the culprits, preying on the caterpillars and reducing their numbers.  As with all natural cycles, the tide has apparently turned: there are significantly fewer wasps around and the Gulf Fritillaries are in ascendance.

Monarchs On The March!

It’s more like they’re on the wing–winging their way north, that is.  A quick bit of news about the North American Monarch butterfly, Danaus plexippus, from Texas Butterfly Ranch:

Scientists and citizen scientists report that the Monarchs left their wintering roosts in the mountains of Michoacán, Mexico on March 24th.   Whoop!!   My garden is  ready for the incredible migratory insects with Tropical Milkweed, Asclepias curassavica that overwintered in my gardens and is sprouting new growth,

…and a couple of new, one-gallon plants of the same, with more foliage, ready for eggs and

Additionally, Austin’s fabulous local nursery, Barton Springs Nursery, now has a regular supplier of native milkweed and my gardening/blogging buddy, TexasDeb at austin agrodolce, kindly picked up a couple of A. tuberosa for me recently, which I popped into the ground this past weekend.

The Asclepias species of plants are the host plant for the Monarch, which cannot survive without it.  I’ve ordered a flat of native milkweed to plant in my spot of the world and to share, from, but I don’t know when it will arrive.  That organization is now selling four-inch pots of native milkweed throughout North America, with delivery dates in spring.  I hope I receive the milkweed soon, preferably before the Monarchs arrive in Central Texas, but if not, the plants will be here in  fall and hopefully, beyond.

The Monarchs headed to Central Texas are those who left Canada in September, migrated southward across North America and into Mexico for winter. They are the longest surviving Monarch generation, living 7 to 9 months. That generation will migrate to and mate in Texas, lay eggs and die. Monarchs lay their eggs on the milkweed plants, the larvae eat, grow,  morph to adulthood and the adults of the next generation move northward, ending in the last Monarch generation of the year hatching in late summer.  That generation  leaves Canada in August/September and migrates several thousand miles south  to Mexico for winter.

It’s a cool and wet spring in Texas this year with lots of blooms, native and otherwise, which is good for the “first” generation that will hatch in the coming 6-8 weeks. Whether there is enough milkweed for the parents to lay eggs is the question and only time and population increase, will tell.  I wrote about the precarious situation of this remarkable insect here, if you’d like to know more about their plight.

You can follow the northward migration by reading Monarch Butterfly Journey North.

Here they come!