Nature up close



 Samantha Plater waits patiently

Samantha Plater of Southampton has first-hand knowledge of the regal Monarch Butterfly.

Of five chrysalis that hang suspended from a pie plate attached to the underside of a wooden box in Plater's backyard, this beauty emerged Wednesday afternoon (Sept.1) and quickly attached itself to Plater's finger. Plater had to sit and wait patiently until its wings had dried and hardened so that it could take flight.

A chrysalis is the pupal stage of butterflies and, most chrysalides, are attached to a surface by a velcro-like silken pad spun by the caterpillar and a set of hooks at the tip of the pupal abdomen. Like other types of pupae, the chrysalis stage in most butterflies is one in which there is little movement. When the butterfly emerges from the chrysalis after only two weeks, it will usually sit on the empty shell in order to expand and harden its wings, but in this case, it chose Plater's finger.

One of the favourite foods of the Monarch is milkweed, thus its other name the 'milkweed butterfly' and, fortunately for this group, it handily grows in the yard of Plater's neighbour. According to science, the Monarchs that hatch after late August are those that will migrate from Canada to Mexico.

This year, the return out of Mexico was fraught with mishap and many of the Monarchs that attempted the migration back to Canada failed. One of their stop-overs for sustenance is Texas where they feed on prolific fields of milkweed. This year however, drought resulted in little to no milkweed and the same was true as they traveled up through the southern states. When those, that survived, arrived in Canada, they were met with a colder, wet spring and early summer resulting in many acquiring a fungus on their wings that also destroyed large numbers.

Interesting facts about the Monarch Butterfly

The monarch butterfly migrates over 3,100 kilometers, without ever having been to its destination.
The male monarch butterfly is distinguishable from females by the black-colored scent glands on each hind wing.
The monarch butterfly is totally dependent on milkweed during its larval stage.

Milkweed contains a chemical that tastes awful. Birds soon associate the bright orange monarch butterfly with unpleasant memories. This works just fine for the monarch, which would otherwise be defenseless.

The monarch butterfly caterpillar sheds its skin four times within two weeks of hatching.

When the monarch butterfly caterpillar is two weeks old, it weighs 3,000 times as much as it did when it was born.
After the monarch butterfly emerges from the pupa, it must pump fluid into its wings and wait for them to harden before it can fly.

The monarch butterfly migrates from Canada to Mexico without training or navigational assistance. It is believed that the monarch uses the magnetic field of the earth and the position of the sun to find the town of Angangueo Mexico, where it spends the winter.

After laying about 400 eggs, the mother monarch abandons her young to look after themselves.

Monarch butterflies that breed early in the summer die within a few weeks. If a monarch butterfly does not breed before late August, however, its reproductive maturity will be postponed and it will live for up to nine months. It is these "late bloomers" that migrate from Canada to Mexico.

(next column)

02/09/2009 09:03 PM

 The first to emerge clings to Samantha

 He waits for his wings to dry and harden

More almost ready to emerge from their chrysalis

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