Protecting nature through research, education, and outreach

Monarch Butterfly

You may have noticed while on your walks on the Lloyd Center property, the presence of butterflies, particularly the Monarch. Monarchs are one of the well known species with their vibrant colors, both as a caterpillar and butterfly.

These colors advertise that they are poisonous to their predators, due to their diet as caterpillars, they eat milkweed. The nutrients of the milkweed allow them to store energy as fat and in nutrients before the next phase in their metamorphic life cycle, the pupa stage.

The butterfly life cycle begins as an egg. After hatching, in the larvae stage, the caterpillar eats and eats and eats milkweed. As the caterpillar continues to grow in size, it must shed its own skin or have it “pop off”. The Monarch does this three or four times, (2 weeks on average); their last layer of larval skin has no head or feet which starts their next phase, the pupa.

While the caterpillar is in its chrysalis, the transformation begins; the wings and other adult features develop. Following the completion of metamorphosis, the butterfly will emerge and start to flap its wings to dry them off, a practice that is mainly done in the warm part of the morning. By afternoon they will be able to take flight as their wings have stiffened up and become stronger.

One would think after this whole transformation from caterpillar to butterfly they would live a long period of time. On the contrary, the Monarch’s average life cycle lasts only a couple of weeks!

Monarchs have to migrate south once the cold weather arrives in New England, as they can freeze at 28 degrees Fahrenheit. As they arrive in Mexico, they congregate to the Oyamel fir forests. At the end of their stint in Mexico, (February-March), is when the Monarchs reproduce to do the whole process all over again for the next generations (2nd-4th generations) to make it back up to butterfly gardens on the Lloyd Center property.

The Lloyd Center for the Environment partners with the University of Kansas each September to help track the elusive Monarch. We work with neighboring schools to tag the Monarchs to try and figure out the routes the Monarchs take as they migrate to Mexico.

Come on down to the Lloyd Center, before the weather gets too chilly, and wish these little guys the best of luck before their departure!