Watching for Monarchs!

Monarch butterfly photographed at Raccoon Creek State Park, PA

Monarch butterflies are on the mind of millions of Americans these days. Especially those of us east of the Rocky Mountain divide. Were the experts correct, had the monarchs wintering in Mexico nose dived to not 500,000,000, but way down to 33,000,000. Was the winter in those Mexican mountains, in the states of Michoacan and Mexico, free of lethal snow and ice storms? Were the monarchs able to bulk up on nectar in the wildflower fields abutting their roosts? And the follow-up Big question, Are they now in Texas and Louisiana

I have nearly completed Four Wings And A Prayer by Sue Halpern (Vintage Books, 2001) and it was a really good read. I know so much more about Danaus plexippus than I did before. I did not know much about Monarch Watch or Journey North, both serious websites, working to monitor, track and understand the Monarch phenomenon.

If Texas and Louisiana serve up good weather, lots of Asclepias nectar and much luck, Monarchs descended from this female you see here will mate, produce viable eggs, caterpillars and chrysalis and that new generation will head north to….US! Yippee!

Who amongst us, here on wingedbeauty, is not anxious to see that first monarch, flying in as beautifully as they do, to our town, garden, city, park, acreage? With our lives so complicated nowadays, who won’t bust-out with Joy! when that happy moment arrives in May, June or July? I mean the list is endless: Mississippi, Tennessee, Kentucky, Indiana, Arkansas, Illinois, Florida, Georgia, West Virginia, Virginia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, Kansas, New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island,  Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, New Jersey, all most of Canada. Have I missed any?


Levantine Marbled White Butterfly

Melanargia titea butterfly photographed by Jeffrey Zablow at Mt. Hermon, Israel

A white adorned butterfly with ‘eyes’ on its hindwings. Melanargia titea is a very purposeful butterfly that flies in gets whatever nectar it can get, and leaves. Cats and dogs have distinct personalities. They interact with us in mostly predictable ways. I find this to be true for butterflies. Years in the field have enabled me to expect certain minimal, but discernible interactions with most butterflies. The Monarch butterfly that turned to look  at me, the Mourning cloak butterfly that caused me to tear up, the jolly little duskywings that escort you down the trails you hike…. I find Levantine marbled whites to be very aloof and business-like. Come, nectar, go. Unlike the female tiger swallowtails that will tolerate my presence, with some ‘complaint,’ as they work the wildflowers.

This one was on the top of Israel’s Mt. Hermon (2008) when there was unseen military presence, and Eran, my guide and I roamed the mountain top, encountering lots of butterflies, grazing cows, shy lizards, eagles…and 1 ugly, old land mine.

Levantine marbled whites are found throughout the northern half of Israel. This satyr-type of butterfly flies from April to August. It’s host plants are native grasses.

Boy do I wish I could get back up on Mt. Hermon….



Monarch Butterfly on Cone Flower

Monarch butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow at Phipps Conservatory

It’s June 15, 2011 in the Outdoor Gardens of Pittsburgh’s grand Phipps Conservatory. Tongues are wagging this year, lamenting the near total  absence of Danaus Plexxipus almost everywhere. Our female Monarch butterfly here reminds us that at any given time Monarchs are not being seen in large numbers. This situation further assures that these butterflies are in fact worthy of their given name, Monarchs. Phipps’ perennials beds offered up cone flowers, butterfly bushes, zinnias, day lilies, Asclepias, and much more. Even so there are usually 2 or 3 or 4 monarchs working  those extensive beds.

The reality remains, there are fewer of them this year. If the reports are accurate, even fewer were counted in their winter roosts in Mexico. Is it a cyclical population swing? Hmmm. Discussion of the use of genetically adjusted corn and other crops causing collateral damage to common milkweed may matter in the midwest, but how can that tilt the Monarch numbers in the northeastern United States?

So with fewer Monarchs flying where you live, invite your friends to visit us here, and enjoy the Monarchs, that clearly are winged beauties? Our address?  No need to knock,  just come right in.