The life story of the monarch: The butterfly

Here are three pages showing the life cycle of monarchs.

Opening the door ©Janet AllenOpening the door

Every time I see this, I think of it as "opening the door" of the chrysalis. (The technical term is "eclosing.")

Here it comes ©Janet AllenHere it comes

Here it comes. It will see the world through the eyes of a butterfly for the first time!

Back flip ©Janet AllenDoing a back flip

When its head is free, it flips down, always reminding me of a back flip.

About half-way there  ©Janet AllenAbout half-way there

About half-way there.

Wings enlarging ©Janet AllenWings enlarging

Its wings are still enlarging.

Almost done ©Janet AllenAlmost done

It will hang around a while (hours, even up to the next day) while its wings become really solid before it's ready to head off. They don't need nectar during this hardening phase.

Monarch butterfly ©Janet AllenThe beautiful result: A monarch butterfly

This adult butterfly is the end result of all the stages of caterpillar growth.

If it was a member of one of the earlier generations in the summer, it will mate and produce another generation here, living only a month or so.

BUT if this monarch was a member of the last generation of the summer here in Central New York, it will be making the long journey to Mexico to overwinter with all the other monarchs east of the Mississippi, to reproduce the first generation in the South next spring.

American lady butterfly ©Janet AllenAmerican Lady butterfly, NOT a monarch or baby monarch

NOTE: Some people mistake smaller orange and black butterflies as monarchs or as "baby monarchs."

There are no "baby monarchs"! They emerge as full-sized adult butterflies.

So what exactly is a "baby monarch"? A caterpillar!

Point Pelee(Enlarge) ©Janet Allen
Point Pelee National Park (in Canada), a take-off point for crossing Lake Erie

On our way to Detroit one year, we crossed through Canada and stopped at Point Pelee National Park, the southernmost point of mainland Canada (and which is, surprisingly, a little farther south than Syracuse).

This spit of land—and they don't call it "point" for nothing— is only about 4 miles long and 2 miles wide. It juts out into Lake Erie and makes it just that much shorter a route to cross this large lake.

How do the monarchs know that?

Monarchs gather there in September. Unfortunately, we were there in summer so we didn't see them, but it was interesting to see this unusual piece of land, so ordinary looking, but so important to the migration.

October Monarch ©Janet AllenMonarch in our yard on October 10, 2011, covered with morning dew

Our own yard is apparently not on a migration path, but people have reported seeing large numbers of monarchs in various places in Central New York.

The tagging records from Monarch Watch show that there have been tag recoveries in Mexico from monarchs tagged in New York State on October 7, 8, and 9.

(You can see what happens after they leave CNY in the Amazing Journeys video in the sidebar.)

The dates we have seen our last monarch of the year have been:

  • 2002: Sept. 10
  • 2003: Sept. 4
  • 2005: Sept. 7
  • 2006: Sept. 29
  • 2007: Oct. 3
  • 2008: Sept. 25
  • 2009: Sept. 23
  • 2010: Sept. 19
  • 2011: Oct. 10
  • 2012: Sept. 20
  • 2013: Sept. 23
  • 2014: Oct. 9

(For 2013 and earlier, dates are based on the last photos of monarchs I've found in my image collection, so these dates could be interpreted as being at least that date, but possibly later. Starting in 2014, we're more carefully keeping track of this last-seen date, as we have been doing for many years with our first sightings of the year.)