Friday, November 18, 2016

Life on the Watershed: The Mystery of the Migrating Monarchs

It's called the "king of the butterflies."

We still see Monarch butterflies at this time of year, gliding gracefully by on the watershed and other local green areas. They’re actually on the road, traveling miles per day (sometimes 50 miles, 100, or even more). Destination: their ancestral wintering grounds

These late fall Monarchs differ from others we see in spring and summer in one critical attribute—longevity. Hatched in September or October, they’re now in migration and will live six to eight months (as opposed to their spring and summer forebears that feast on the nectar of seasonal flowers for a brief few weeks before dying).

The fall butterflies are the fourth generation. And they’re making the same journey as their great great grandparents did the year before. The wintering grounds themselves are certain stands of tall trees where up to thousands of  Monarchs cluster every year to hibernate. 

How they know just where to go four generations later is one of  nature’s mysteries.

They’ll emerge from hibernation in February or March, and reproduce to launch the next cycle of migrants northward (each of the next three generations traveling further north). Then, next year at about this time, the fourth-generation descendants of the butterflies we’re seeing today will make the same long journey south,   

Destination: the same wintering grounds. .     

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