Welcome, Stalkers, to the eighteenth edition of Stalking Mike Blair Outdoors. Thanks to you and your support we have been able to reach the milestone of 200 likes of Mike Blair Outdoors’ Facebook Page! We are so excited! Also, be on the look out for changes and exciting updates coming soon to the website!
This beautiful butterfly is easily recognizable and often sought out by those wishing to catch a glimpse of the graceful insects. The Monarch butterfly is easy to spot with its burnt orange color and distinct markings. Black runs along the veins, with white spots around the outer wing. These insects are multi-generational and migratory. The Monarch is the state insect of seven states and according to Wikipedia, in 1990 it was nominated to be the national insect of the United States, the legislation did not pass though.
Blair has done some incredible work with the beautiful creatures. He has three books available that feature images and events of the Monarch’s life. Geared towards young readers, these books are perfect for story time, at home learning and young readers. The first book, Monty Monarch: The Story of a Butterfly, follows a butterfly named Monty through the life cycle. Starting out as an egg and undergoing the different metamorphoses through to the adult stage. The second book, Monty Monarch Grows Up, follows Monty through his adult life as he lives, finds food and avoids predators. This book teaches children the ins and outs of the butterfly’s life. In final book of the three part series, Monty Monarch Takes a Trip, follows Monty as he prepares and undergoes the fall migrations south to Mexico. Learn more about these books and purchase them HERE.
In addition to these books, Blair has published some amazing photos which you can view in the Monarch Gallery, and there are also rumors of some video being assembled for a short episode on Monarchs and their lifestyle. (Maybe if we let Blair know how much we would like to see that, he’ll give us a member exclusive! hint hint 😉 )
Since Blair has all of these amazing products available to experience and learn more about Monarchs, we’ll just touch on them here and share the photos that he’s already made available to us.
Monarchs have four stages of complete metamorphosis: egg, larvae, pupa and adult. The larvae has five sub stages, called instars.
Monarch butterflies lay their eggs on milkweed plants. Within a few days these eggs hatch into larvae. This is the first instar of the larvae stage. As it eats the milkweed plant it grows, evolves, gains sharper coloration and moves through the second, third, fourth and fifth instar larvae stages. Even the monarch larvae have some bright colors that are rare for caterpillars. The reason for this coloration and the bright orange colors of the adult Monarch butterfly is to warn potential predators. The bright colors signify that it tastes bad and to avoid it. This coloration and natural protection from predators is provided by the milkweed it ingests, which is why eggs are laid on this plant.
Once the caterpillar is a fifth instar larvae, it will move and find a suitable place for it to complete its next metamorphosis. Hanging from the plant in a “J” shape is a perfect sign that the larvae is preparing to pupate. It’s at this stage that most caterpillars die. This is most commonly caused by tachinid flies. We talked about these briefly in our camouflage issue. They lay their eggs inside caterpillars, and then the larvae use their host as the main food source. According to Blair, the estimated parasitoid kill-rate of monarchs is as high as 90%.
If the caterpillar is fortunate enough to avoid the tachinid fly, it will begin to shed its skin while hanging, encasing itself in a green exoskeleton. It is very obvious when an adult monarch is about to emerge from its chrysalis. The night before the emergence, the exoskeleton will start with its blue-green color and slowly start to clear. This clearing continues all night until the adult is ready to emerge. The adult butterfly splits from the pupal case and crawls free, usually between daybreak and mid-morning. Similar to the cicada, the butterfly will hang, allowing fluids to enter the wings, expanding them. The butterfly waits for the wings to expand and dry.
In addition to their vibrant colors, the Monarchs are also known for their migration habits. While the egg to adult metamorphosis takes place during the summer months, in the fall the adult butterflies will start their journey south. Monarch butterflies can be found anywhere from the top of South American up through Canada in the summer months. During the fall they migrate south and then are found in the warmer lower states and down. Monarchs can be found migrating in large groups. You can find these groups passing through, usually flying close to the ground. Stopping in the evenings to rest and sleep, you can often find whole trees covered in the recognizable orange color. They release pheromones to signal other monarchs to join their migration and form these large groups.
Blair has an interesting video: Kansas Butterflies. You can catch a glimpse of some Monarchs, along with other beautiful butterflies in this video. Mike explains some interesting feeding habits of the insects and other fun facts. Be sure to give that a few minutes of your time.
Let Mike know in the comments below if you enjoy his pictures and video and if you’d like to see a segment dedicated to Monarchs and their life cycle. Continue sharing his work with others and encourage them to invest in a membership so they can enjoy his beautiful photos as well. Keep an eye out for exciting changes coming to the website!
Be sure to check out the Monarch Photo Gallery!