A Monarch Christmas – Part 2

Click on the ornament to go to Part 1 of A Monarch Christmas

glass christmas ball-rsFranca’s Christmas holiday

House-sitting with Marcail ~ "It feels so good to be on a plant with sunshine on my wings!" Franca

House-sitting with Marcail ~ “It feels so good to be on a plant with sunshine on my wings!” Franca

House-sitting with Marcail ~ "Here's where I sit in the bathroom. It's kind of cold in here, but this plant is the safest. I haven't fallen off of it, and none of the other animals can get me." Franca

House-sitting with Marcail ~ “Here’s where I sit in the bathroom. It’s kind of cold in here, but this plant is the safest. I haven’t fallen off of it, and none of the other animals can get me.” Franca

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. 

Butterfly pee!

Butterfly pee!

Not everyone can say they’ve been peed on by a butterfly.

Marcail: I just started a Facebook page for Franca.

Franca's FB headerKaty:  What a great idea. Now that you are more than two weeks into Franca’s rescue, what’s your hope for her future? 

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.

Monarch butterfly puzzle by Katy Pye

Monarch puzzle. Click on the link above the photo. If 20 pieces is too easy, bump it up to more. Have fun!

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.

Survival strategies

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”?

Other stuff

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?

Answers

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.

Monarch on left, Viceroy on right. Note black bar across lower wing on Viceroy, absent from Monarch. Can you tell whether the Monarch is a male or female?  Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Monarch on left, Viceroy on right. Note the black bar across lower wing on  the Viceroy, absent from Monarch. Can you tell whether the Monarch is a male or female?
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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.

BBC Earth News 'Supersized' Monarchs

Long-distance Monarch fliers have larger bodies and wings. Photo: used with permission

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. 

Black_headed_grosbeak_From_The_Crossley_ID_Guide_Eastern_Birds_edited-1Please 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.

A Monarch Christmas – Part 1

Stacks of multicoloured Christmas gifts C.C. lic

Eleven days before Christmas / and all through the town / shoppers aim for the store lights / none notice the ground.

Except one.

Every December Woodland, CA bustles with people, preparing for the holidays. Sunday the 14th was no exception, as my friends Marcail and her mom, Marjie, finished their shopping at a local mall.

Marjie crossed the parking lot toward her car to wait for Marcail. A flicker of color ~ not Christmas green or red, but true orange ~ caught her attention in a nearby flowerbed. A Monarch butterfly, wings spread, lay motionless on the dirt. She bent and lifted it off the cold ground, first searching its wings for a tiny identification tag. A Santa Barbara native familiar with Monarchs, she once found a tagged butterfly and retrieved information for a group tracking its migration. This downed migrant was tagless.

Behind the wheel, she cupped her palms and blew warm air over the lifeless body. One antenna moved. Marcail opened the car door, sliding into her seat. Marjie handed her daughter the butterfly. It would be up to her to figure out how to care for their new family member ~ if it survived.

Monarch rescue copyright Marcail McWilliamsIn the following days, Marcail’s friends and I fell in love with the “girl and her butterfly” story unfolding on her Facebook page. I realized how little I know about Monarchs, much less how to nurse one back to health. I thought others might benefit from her journey, so Marcail agreed to this interview. The multi-post series combines updates on the butterfly’s progress, Marcail’s photos (used with permission), information on Monarchs, and ways we all can help.

glass christmas ball-rs

TRIAL AND ERROR FEEDING

Katy: I’ve really enjoyed following the story, Marcail. I know your mom found the butterfly, but you’ve had to take care of it since. Let’s start with what you did when you got the butterfly home.

Marcail:  Somehow we knew about keeping it warm and putting sugar water on a cotton ball and letting it drink from it, which it did. This kind of care lasted for a few days, then you and our friend Greg (who knows a lot about butterflies) sent me links about getting other nutrition into it through juice or a mixture of soy sauce and juice. At first it didn’t care for this new concoction, but if I made it much more on the sweet side I could usually get it to drink some.

Katy: You had a few concerns the first couple of days. 

Marcail:  A couple of hours after we got home, it was barely moving its wings. The antennae were moving much more, but it still wasn’t standing. The wings would move when I picked it up, but stopped when I put it down. I was worried about the missing chunk from her underwing, but Greg said it wouldn’t hurt its flying.  Franco with chunk out of wing adj MMc arrow flat

I was also worried because it’s an insect, but I only saw four legs. I found out the other two are tiny and are usually tucked under the head.

I think this video shows it using the front legs to clean its proboscis.

Katy: I see there’s an apple core, maybe a piece of other fruit, in the picture above. What’s that about?

Marcail:  I’m trying to incorporate other natural fruits that could give the butterfly more vitamins and minerals than just sugar and water. I give it the juice that oozes out of overripe fruit mixed with sugar water and fruit syrup from jam. I usually put a raisin in it that gets soft as it soaks up the liquids and syrup. I’m hoping the raisins add iron because I’ve heard and read that raisins are high in iron. 

12/19: "Well, just when I think "she's not interested in eating anymore" I find something to perk her up. Some persimmon!" Marcail

12/19: “Well, just when I think “she’s not interested in eating anymore” I find something to perk her up. Some persimmon!” Marcail

Marcail’s Monarch was lucky to be found. A strong, cold storm hit a wide area three days before she crash-landed. Monarchs can’t fly if their body heat is below 86 degrees F.

12/17 "Well, I only fed her in the morning, didn't have time after work and my next thing, now I can't get her to eat. feeling frustrated. She probably needs to eat! She does like hanging out near a warm mug of tea though."

12/17 “Well, I only fed her in the morning, didn’t have time after work and my next thing, now I can’t get her to eat. feeling frustrated. She probably needs to eat! She does like hanging out near a warm mug of tea though.”

They won’t survive freezing temperatures, especially if they are alone. This butterfly is part of the smaller, Western group whose members live, reproduce, and travel west of the Rockies. They can be found as far north as British Columbia, but they don’t migrate into Mexico, rather only as far south as San Diego. That’s what happens when you leave your passports at home.

Fall Migration Map." Monarch Butterfly. US Forest Service, 3 May 2013. Web. 18 Jan. 2014.

Fall Migration Map.” Monarch Butterfly. US Forest Service

The butterfly would have hatched in the late summer or early fall, like its cousins in the Eastern migration group that move from Eastern Canada, through Texas, to Mexico each fall. A small number of the Eastern group fly to Florida where they stay for the winter. The large, Mexico-bound group over-winters in the oyamel fir trees of Michoacan, Mexico. In the spring, all groups start the search for nectar to eat and milkweed plants on which to lay eggs and nourish the caterpillars when they hatch.

One of Marcail’s original concerns was the butterfly was not standing. It took a awhile, but on Day 6 it was ready for Strength Training! Can sprint flights be far behind?

12/20 "Practicing our grip this morning. She did her first official (small) flutter of her wings last night. Very exciting. I'm glad for a weekend so I can spend more time with her and feed her more often." Marcail

12/20 “Practicing our grip this morning. She did her first official (small) flutter of her wings last night. Very exciting. I’m glad for a weekend so I can spend more time with her and feed her more often.”  Marcail

Marcail (on her Facebook page): I think I’ve got a name for her: Franken Flutter (Franca for short) because I keep thinking, “She’s alive!” 

Katy: How did you figure out she’s a female, or did you just decide to make her a “sista?”

Marcail: Our friend Greg told me the females have thicker veins in their wings. I compared her to pictures online, and her veins are definitely bigger.

The other main differences are the males tend to be slightly larger and they have a black spot (the “androconium,” a scent gland used to attract girl Monarchs) on each hindwing. Can you see them in these comparison pictures?

Female Monarch Photo: Creative Commons

Female Monarch
Photo: Creative Commons

CC male Monarch

Male Monarch Photo: Creative Commons

 

 

 

 

 

Marcail and her mom are both fabric artists. Here’s a collage Marcail put together showing the butterfly wing skirt she made in high school. I think Franca (can you see her?) approves.

Marcail's butterfly skirt

Marcail’s butterfly skirt

My interview with Marcail and Franca continues in Part 2, along with some unusual, fun Monarch facts. I‘m off to make a Monarch paper airplane. (see update below)

Monarch rescue resource sites

I haven’t cross-checked all the information on the sites I visited for this series. I suggest looking at more than one site, particularly ones backed by universities and researchers studying butterflies. A serious Monarch health issue is linked to the increased use of “tropical milkweed.” For now, don’t plant it or spread the seeds, only use plants native to your area. If you already have it, consider replacing with natives or cut it back in the fall.

Wing repair ~ Live Monarch Hospital   Marcail used info on this site to keep her butterfly’s legs from sticking together when it got carried away in its food dish.

Feeding ~ Butterfly Rescue International   Butterflies smell with their antennae and taste with special receptors, called tarsi, on the bottoms of their feet (who knew?).

12/25 – Christmas flutters! Marcail (on her Facebook page): Here’s a video of Franca doing some pretty rapid wing flutters. Of course right after I take this she does one 10x more impressive. I was telling some friends tonight about her personality, how she’s not much of a morning girl and I’ll be like, “hurry up and eat so I can go to work!” But she just farts around with her food like she’s not hungry.

I don’t know for sure, but this looks like the kind of wing “shivers” butterflies do to warm up.

glass christmas ball-rsUpdate: My Monarch paper airplane. Flew pretty well, considering I accidentally tore off what would be the short tail. Helps to follow the instructions.

UPDATE: Finished the airplane. Printed on both sides of the paper. It didn’t quite match up, but worked okay. I accidentally tore off the short tail the instructions say to leave. Flew pretty well anyway, but I’ll try again with the tail intact.

Monarch paper air plane top Katypye.com http://wp.me/p2dkY1-Nj

Monarch paper air plane top
Katypye.com http://wp.me/p2dkY1-Nj

Monarch paper air plane underneath Katypye.com http://wp.me/p2dkY1-Nj

Monarch paper air plane underneath
Katypye.com http://wp.me/p2dkY1-Nj