Did you know that Minnesota’s state butterfly is the Monarch? The Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus), also known as the milkweed butterfly, was adopted as the state’s official butterfly in 2000. Because of its size and colorful markings, it is hard to miss in backyards, parks, and rural areas.
The life cycle of the monarch is fascinating. We see as many as three to four overlapping generations throughout May to October in Minnesota. Each generation lives approximately four weeks with the exception of the last of the season. As many as 50 million, which also include our Minnesota Monarchs, migrate south to central Mexico for the winter in a state of semi-hibernation from November to March.
In the spring, Minnesota monarchs that have wintered in Mexico, fly north laying eggs on milkweed plants there or in southern states. Then the adult dies, one month later, the young butterflies head to Minnesota. Mature caterpillars of the first generation are found in Minnesota around mid to late June and hatch in July. The second generation appears by mid-August. According to Karen Oberhauser, director of the University of Minnesota’s Monarch Lab:
“If you spot eggs, they typically hatch within three to six days depending on the weather. The iconic yellow-, white- and black-striped caterpillars spend nine to 14 days making their way across the milkweed, eating, growing and shedding their skin about five times to fit their growing size. The final step is the green chrysalis, which protectively blends in with leaves, keeping the creature safe for the 8- to 14-day transformation into a butterfly. When the colors are really vivid, they’re ready to come out”, Oberhauser said. “The just-hatched butterflies break the chrysalis open using their legs for leverage and carefully emerge. It can take four to six minutes for wings to expand and four to six hours before they’re ready to fly.”
Want to attract, encourage the Monarch butterfly population? It is fun and easy to create and incorporate a butterfly garden in a new or existing garden space. Here is a step by step plan to get you started to create a garden that will support all stages of the monarch’s lifecycle: Firstly, most butterfly plants prefer soil that is well-drained and rich in organic matter. Compost is a great amendment that will enrich the soil to successfully grow butterfly plants. It is then important to know the types of plants that will attract butterflies, choose plants that require full sun to part sun and work best for your garden space. Also, ensure that your butterfly garden has little to no wind. Lastly, be sure there is an absence of herbicides in your garden so the butterflies may stay strong and thrive.
The adult monarchs use its long straw-like mouth to consume nectar from a variety of flowering plants. Some of these plants include perennials such as asters, bee balm, butterfly weed, chrysanthemums, daisies, live forever, purple coneflower, sedum, and yarrow. Annuals, like coneflowers, impatiens, marigolds, phlox, sunflower, and verbena. And wildflowers, including Black-eyed Susan, butterfly flower, coreopsis, and ox-eye daisy.
To learn more about monarchs, visit The University of Minnesota’s Citizen Watch program (mlmp.org) where volunteers monitor milkweed for larva at more than 900 sites across the United States, Canada and Mexico.
For more tips and information about creating a butterfly garden, visit TheMustardSeed.com