Monarchs are migrating

One of the better PR/education stories of North American conservation has been the Monarch butterfly.

Monarchs overwintering in Mexico (unedited photo by Piedra Herrada,

Most people now know about this charismatic, migratory lepidopteron (i.e. moths and butterflies). covers any question you might possibly have, and the Wikipedia page is pretty good too.

But in short: The caterpillars feed exclusively on milkweed plants (several species can be found). The adults can drink nectar from many types of flowers. In the fall, they migrate from across eastern North America down to a single mountainous hillside in Mexico. The full annual migratory cycle occurs across several generations of butterflies. It’s pretty amazing.

Despite the PR, the trends are still worrisome. The migratory population has dropped 80%+ or more. Ask anyone over 50 who grew up in a rural places. Unfortunately, this is part of a broader decline of butterfly species as a taxon.

I was pleased to find out via Ancilla College’s Facebook page that our librarian is an insect enthusiast and rears Monarchs each year. Bringing Monarch eggs or larvae (caterpillars) indoors to be raised is not a problem, if done with a little attention (see for pointers).

Despite their own chemical defenses, many predators have found ways of doing Monarchs off. A few years ago I was watching one fat caterpillar grow on my own milkweed only to come out later and find him pierced by the proboscis of a shield bug and sucked dry, his skin hanging like a deflated balloon. While not a prescription for population recovery, rearing Monarchs gives a few individuals a boost and reconnects us with the natural world.

To that end, I brought a caterpillar to our main reception area and entrusted it to the care of our valiant front desk co-workers, who supply it with fresh milkweed (we always let a few grow in the landscaping).

“Herbie” has now went to the pupa (chrysalis) stage. It will hopefully emerge in about 2 weeks.

They quickly took to the little guy, named him Herbie, then found two more and brought them in. “TCAD” and “Litl bit” are growing.

Of course, we have a few of these at home so my girls can have “pets” to associate with. My wife noticed that one fat caterpillar was pretty loud. I stuck my iPhone down into the Ball jar and to my pleasure the recording came out alright. Turn your speakers and click play below:

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