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Saturday, September 27, 2008

Monarch Butterflies in Pyramid Mountain Park

I'm fascinated with butterflies. Even more so with Monarch Butterflies that manage the unthinkable every year with a 2,000 to 3,000 mile migration.

Imagine a creature as delicate and ephemeral as a butterfly traveling the distance from Mexico to various parts of the United States and Canada and back again.  Every year.  

No other insect undertakes as long a migration.

Monarch butterflies make their way  back to their 'overwintering grounds' in Central Mexico [more specifically the Oyamel fir forest] in September and October.  Hence the recent Meet a Monarch Butterfly Festival  at the Pyramid Mountain Natural Historic area in Montville Township in Morris County, NJ - as well as many other areas around the country as reported in USA Today in an article titled "Catch the monarch on its migratory path."

The Daily Record reported on the Pyramid Mountain event in Imaginations aflutter at butterfly festival; Hands-on Kinnelon event teaches visitors about Monarchs' life cycles which my daughter and I attended.  It was fascinating.

From the press release, I learned the following: "Weighing only half a gram, monarch butterflies travel up to 80 miles a day to cover a dangerous 2,000-mile journey to Mexico."

We missed the butterfly tagging demonstration during which trained naturalists attach tiny numbered tags onto the wings of the adult monarchs, immediately before releasing them to begin their journey.  I presume they use a tooth pick...

However, we did enjoy a tour [actually several] of the butterfly garden immediately next to the Visitor Center. There, we saw a monarch caterpillar in a "J" position about to enter into the pupa phase and turn into  a chrysalis [see photo above left].  We saw several chrysalis further along and even returned the following day to admire a newly emerged monarch [see below].

Critical to the survival of monarchs is the milkweed plant.

Monarchs only lay eggs on milkweed plants.  The milkweed also protects the insect in its butterfly stage as the acidic milkweed 'milk' that the caterpillar eats voraciously is toxic to many animals.

No surprise, the Native Plant Society of New Jersey had displays and information about the benefits of a multitude of native New Jersey plants, including milkweed. Note: the NPSNJ website offers lists of native plants by county.

I came across milkweed for the first time during a walk last summer and fell in love with the sweet smell and the intense flowers. When I noticed that I could purchase seeds, I did so and we plan to sow them next weekend.
I came across this article titled Monarch butterfly: Color protects it from predatory birds which lists details on the monarch butterfly.  Pay special attention to the life cycle section [also check out the Wikipedia article referenced above].

Other sites I discovered:
+ Inner clock may lead monarch butterflies

+ KidZone information on the Monarch butterfly with terrific pictures and monarch-related kid activities.

+ And, you can help track the monarch butterfly migration each fall and spring by becoming a member of this site - Journey North: Monarch Butterfly Migration - and reporting your observations.

Although this is the third year of the Meet a Monarch Butterfly Festival, this was our first visit.  I doubt it will be our last, though.  There's too much that's marvelous about these insects.

By the way, at the Pyramid Mountain visitors' center, you can sign up to receive email updates on the scheduled hikes and programs.  That's how I learned  about the Festival.

I can't wait to plant our milkweed seeds and eventually welcome monarch butterflies to our yard.


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