Click on the ornament to go to Part 1 of A Monarch Christmas
Katy: What’s new, now that you’re two plus weeks in?
Marcail: I house-sat during Christmas and took Franca with me. She liked it there because the house was warmer than mine. She also had plants to sit on. Sometimes when I got home after work, I’d find she’d fallen off the plant I left her on. Didn’t hurt her, but there were cats in the house, so I made sure they couldn’t get to her.
Not everyone can say they’ve been peed on by a butterfly.
Marcail: I just started a Facebook page for Franca.
Marcail: I don’t know how old she is, but I have a feeling she’ll make it to warmer weather. Of course I’m hoping to release her. I definitely do not want to keep her as a pet. I’m really happy with the progress I’ve seen so far. I didn’t think she would be so quick to use her legs and wings, and she’s getting stronger. I’m pretty sure she won’t die, unless it’s her time.
Katy: How will you know when it’s time to let her go?
Marcail: I don’t know what conditions prove that she’s able to be released, but I want to see that she’s confident walking, confident flying, and able to find her own food without me putting it in front of her face. I think that would be proof that she can live on her own. My goal is to get her to feed on her own and fly. Then she’s on her way.
Katy: Those sound like reasonable goals. She’s done so well so far. Since she might be around for a while, are you going to make a habitat for her?
Marcail: At this rate, I’ll probably have to get some kind of small cage or terrarium for her to live in until spring. She’s getting more confident walking around and trying to use her wings. I don’t want her to get into trouble.
Katy: I’ve learned a lot following you and Franca. Can you sum up your experience so far?
Marcail: She’s a lot stronger than I thought. I was afraid she would be much more breakable and easily damaged, but she’s not. Caring for her doesn’t take as much time as I expected. I don’t take her to work, so I don’t feed her for a long time during the day. Still, she’s able to make it and keep her strength until I get home. I’m always glad for weekends or holidays where I can stay home and spend a lot of time with her. It’s a lot of time put in, but it doesn’t feel like it. A lot of times I’ll feed her and keep her warm while I’m watching a movie and I don’t notice how much time it takes. I feel like I make it work for my lifestyle and schedule. Sometimes I feel guilty about that, but she seems to be doing well anyway.
Katy: Given fall-hatched Monarchs can live up to eight months, she might be hanging around your house another four or five. Enough time to learn a lot more about this beautiful butterfly and her species.
UPDATE: Franca’s beautiful life came, as far we can tell, to a natural end on January 25th. I’m grateful for the chance to have this closer look at the lives on Monarchs.
Visit (and Like) Franca’s Facebook page to keep up with her. I created a puzzle, using a photo of a Monarch (female!) who stopped by my garden this year.
Thanks, Marcail and Franca for allowing me to share your story. I’ll be preparing my garden (with native milkweed and flowers) and anxiously watching for Monarchs this spring.
There is tons of information about Monarchs on the Internet. I found some unusual, fun facts. See how many questions you can answer.
1) Franca got caught in a bad rain storm. What is one strategy butterflies use to wait out a storm?
2) Butterflies come in a range of colors, so why are Monarch’s orange?
3) What is a major difference between Monarchs that make the longest migration from Canada to Mexico and shorter migrations(or none), like the Western or resident Puerto Rican groups?
4) What body part(s) help a Monarch fly in the right direction during migration?
5) What is “puddling”?
6) Are Monarchs found in other places than North America?
7) What is the Monarch called in Australia?
8) What bird is immune to the toxin in Monarchs?
1) They hang upside down from a branch, wings folded tight, so the rain will run off their bodies.
2) The color is a warning signal to predators (like birds) that they’ll get a yucky (toxic to some species) mouthful if they chomp down on a Monarch. This is called an “aposematic” signal. Monarch caterpillars only eats milkweed, which contains a poison. The caterpillar’s body stores the poison and passes it on to the adult butterfly during metamorphosis. The Viceroy butterfly doesn’t rely on milkweed, but its color pattern mimics the Monarch’s. It probably sends the same, “better not eat me” message. A color variation where the Monarch’s normally orange areas are replaced by greyish white, originally appeared in small numbers in Australia, New Zealand, and Indonesia. A consistent 10% of Oahu, Hawaii’s population have this coloration.
3) New research shows size matters if you’re flying long distance. Look at the difference between these Monarchs (top left one is a male-note black scent sacs on underwing and thinner veins). The larger set makes the long migration, the smaller set never migrates out of Puerto Rico. BBC Earth News article, here.
4) Butterfly ‘GPS’ found in antennae The antennae and brain work together to get Monarchs where they need to go. The butterflies use “a 24-hour clock in their brains in conjunction with their “Sun compass” when they migrate. The antennal clock can sense light independently from the brain and can function independently,” while regulating the brain process. “It’s becoming…clear that the antennae have a number of functions that are independent from being odour detectors. They can function as ears, sensing sound and changes in barometric pressure, and now we can add to the list this function as a timepiece.”
5) When a butterfly takes in moisture and nutrients from damp soil and wet gravel.
6) Yes, two species are wide-spread. Populations are found in New Zealand, Australia, New Guinea, and New Caladonia. In Europe: the Canary Islands, the Azores, and Madeira. Also India, Ceylon, Central America and Northern South America-including along the Amazon. And in Hawaii. From: Carnavora Forum.
7) The Wanderer
8) The Black-headed Grosbeak. Other birds, like orioles and jays eat select, less toxic parts of the body. Mice seem less affected by the toxin, too.
Please don’t plant “tropical” milkweed, as there is concern it might be contributing to health issues in Monarchs. Replace it with native milkweed, at the least, cut it back every fall, so it’s not blooming. Read about the issue, here.