Saturday, September 12, 2015 By: Ask A Master Gardener

Monarch Butterflies Life Cycle

Master Gardener: Monarch butterflies depend on milkweed plants

Bill Sevier: Ask a Master Gardener

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Q: I have some milkweed, which has both small eggs and caterpillars of monarchs. How long does it take for the eggs to hatch and the caterpillar to become a butterfly? T.W., Tulsa

A: numbers of monarch butterflies and their dependence on milkweed plants has inspired many people to become actively involved in their support.

The monarch’s life cycle and migration are uniquely amazing. There are two groups of monarchs in the U.S. — Western and Eastern. The Western group remains in California. The larger group of Eastern monarchs overwinter in Mexico and migrate mostly up through the Midwest. They may fly over 3000 miles and as far north as Canada.

The monarch’s migration typically involves four remarkable generations, each of which goes through four stages of development — egg, larva (caterpillar), pupa (chrysalis) and then adulthood. The time from when the egg is laid to an adult butterfly is about four weeks. All of the development times quoted are dependent on the environment, especially the temperature.

The eastern monarch populations leave their overwintering area in Mexico in February and March, flying northward. They soon mate and deposit eggs on milkweed plants. The eggs hatch in four to five days, and the larvae (caterpillars) eat large amounts of milkweed leaves and mature in about two weeks. At that time, they turn into a pupa.

The pupa hangs upside down using a silk attachment, called a chrysalis. Inside the chrysalis, the caterpillar changes into a mature butterfly, which emerges in about 10 days. This adult will be ready to mate in a few days.

A second generation of monarch butterflies is produced on their northward journey in May and June. This generation lives about two to six weeks. They lay eggs and produce a third generation in July and August as they continue to feed on flower nectar and migrate to their summering home in the Midwest or as far north as Canada. This generation, too, lives about two to six weeks and is responsible for producing a fourth generation in September and October.

The fourth generation is unique. They may live for six to eight months. These monarchs migrate back to a warmer climate in either Mexico or California, where they overwinter until the following spring. After overwintering, they start northward and serve as the parents for the next yearly migration cycle in spring.

This is a remarkable story of these beautiful butterflies, which we often take for granted. We can do several things to help lessen their decline, one of which is to plant milkweed. For a list of milkweeds that are native to Oklahoma and the region in the state where found, go to the Master Gardener website and look for “Monarchs and Milkweed” under the “Tips and Techniques” section.

Garden tips

It is time to divide and replant spring-blooming perennials like iris, peonies and daylilies, if needed.

In fall, strawberry plants build up food reserves and form fruit buds for the next year’s crop. They should be fertilized between mid-August and mid-September with a nitrogen fertilizer such as ammonium sulfate at a rate of 1.5 pounds per 100-foot row. Apply 1 inch of water if no rain is expected.

You have all of September to plant cool-season vegetables like spinach, leaf lettuce, mustard and radishes and until the middle of September to plant rutabagas, Swiss chard, garlic and turnips


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