The lifespan of monarch butterflies is unique and beautiful. What is the life cycle of monarch butterflies from start to finish, and how long do they live? The monarch butterfly is worth a study whether you’re a butterfly fanatic or simply interested in nature.
When comparing different generations of monarchs throughout the year, we will discuss what a monarch butterfly experiences, how long they live on average, and how unique their life cycles are. Let’s get started, shall we?
How Long Do Monarch Butterflies Live?
During the summer months, monarch butterflies may survive for two to six weeks, and migratory monarchs may survive for nine months. The monarchs that migrate are typically born in late August or September, and the final ones of the year are born.
Although it is possible for migrating monarch butterflies to survive longer in order to arrive at their desired warmer temperatures, this does not imply they do. Predators are much more likely to attack a migrating monarch, and they are also more likely to die in flight.
A migrating monarch, on the other hand, will hibernate and overwinter in warm areas if they survive their perilous migration. In the early spring, they will mate and lay eggs, beginning the monarch life cycle all over again.
As a result, monarch butterflies are unique. They are one of the few insects that travel, and their age determines when they were born. It’s incredible that the monarchy’s final generation, which was born in the same year as the previous generation, can survive for so long!
Wondering what a monarch butterfly experiences from start to finish? Let’s discuss their life stages right now.
Monarch Butterfly Life Cycle
The egg, larva, pupa, and adult stages of monarchs are the four life cycles.
According to Monarch Joint Venture (MJV), a non-profit alliance of organizations that promotes monarch conservation, they may mate multiple times and do so for up to 16 hours at a time.
According to Laura Lukens, the national monitoring coordinator for MJV, monarch eggs are football-shaped and have vertical ridges. Off-white to yellow eggs are the color of the eggs.
In captivity, female monarch butterflies have been known to lay more than 1,100 eggs on different milkweed species (Asclepias sp). They typically lay 300 to 500 eggs. Lukens said that due to intense spider and stink bug predation, only around 10% of those eggs make it to the larva stage. It takes roughly three to five days for the eggs to hatch.
A tiny, striped caterpillar, often known as a butterfly larva, emerges from the egg. The stage in which an insect develops larvae is known as the larva stage. According to MJV, as the little monarch caterpillars develop, their semi-rigid exoskeleton becomes too thick for them to molt and replace five times. An instar refers to the time between each molt.
The first four instars last between one and three days apiece, and the fifth instar lasts between three and five days. This growth period isn’t long. Monarchs can grow from about 0.08 inch (2 mm) to 1.75 inches (45 mm) in length between the first and fifth instars.
The caterpillar chooses a safe spot to dangle from when it reaches the end of its larva stage in order to become a butterfly. The caterpillar’s skin is lost one final time before the chrysalis, which is revealed after it has been attached.
Chrysalis and cocoon are not the same thing, despite the fact that they both protect developing insects. Chrysalises are hard exoskeletons that aren’t made of silk, whereas cocoons are silk coverings solely produced by moths.
The monarch is known as a pupa throughout its transformation from larva to adult. The pupa stage may last between eight and fifteen days in average summer weather. The monarch emerges from its chrysalis as a butterfly after the pupa stage.
The orange wings of monarch butterflies are crossed by a network of black veins. According to MJV, females have deeper veins and two black markings on the hindwings of males. Both men and women have black wings with white, brown, and yellow dots on them. The National Wildlife Federation claims that a monarch’s wingspan ranges from 3 to 4 inches (7 to 10 centimeters).
Deforestation of wintering forests in Mexico, migratory disruption caused by climate change, and the loss of indigenous plants (including milkweed species but also all nectar-producing indigenous plants) along their migratory paths are all threats to monarchs.
Extreme weather occurrences are becoming more common and severe, which scientists believe is also contributing to the decline in populations, according to research.
The territory inhabited by monarchs on their wintering grounds, as well as in the wintering woods near Mexico City (where the majority of North Americans winters), has seen a rapid and persistent reduction over the last two decades.
The monarch was recommended for listing as Endangered in December 2016 after being designated as Special Concern under the Species at Risk Act in Canada.
The Host Plant for the Monarch Butterfly
The eggs of monarch butterflies develop into larvae that consume the eggshells and, subsequently, the milkweed plants on which they are grown.
Development and the widespread use of herbicides in croplands, pastures, and roadsides are contributing to the decline of milkweeds and nectar sources.
Farm activities have the potential to significantly influence Monarch populations because 90% of all milkweed/Monarch habitats are found within agricultural areas. In the United States, development (subdivisions, factories, retail complexes, and so on) is widespread. Every day, 6,000 acres are being consumed as food for Monarchs and other creatures.
On MonarchWatch.org, you can learn more about the state of the Monarchy and monarch butterfly tagging.
Why are Monarchs Important?
Monarchs are large and well-liked insects that typify urban hardiness and are a familiar sight in rural regions during the summer.
Their presence in Mexico has a stronger connotation. On Nov. 1 and 2, millions of Mexicans return to Mexico for el Día de los Muertos (the Day of the Dead), when tradition holds that the monarchs are returning spirits of loved ones who have died.
Lifespan of a First Generation Monarch VS Last Generation Monarch
The generation in which monarch butterflies were born is the most important factor affecting how long they live. In comparison to an end-of-the-year, final generation born monarch butterfly, a first generation monarch butterfly has a much shorter lifespan.
Early spring, such as February or March, is common for first generation monarchs to be born. Once the previous year’s generation wakes up and migrates back north, these butterflies are born in the northern United States.
These monarchs are likely to live an average of 2-5 weeks after laying eggs in the springtime. The cycle continues as the next generation is born. The final generation born has a huge responsibility in a monarch flock, which normally has three to five generations per year.
The final generation of monarchs, who are often born in the late summer and early fall, has a significant responsibility. Like birds, they will spend the winter in the south. After that, in the southern United States and Mexico, they will overwinter and hibernate.
This is why the final generation of monarchs has such a long life expectancy. They spend the majority of their time in the air, hibernating, and awakening in the spring to continue their life cycle. Monarch butterflies have remarkable lives, regardless of their age!
Where Do They Live And Why Do They Migrate?
Native to North and South America, monarch butterflies now live all over the globe. Danaus plexippus and Danaus erippus are the two species of monarch butterflies.
D. is a number that represents a specific thing. The famous population of Dipippus, which migrates between Mexico and Canada, lives in North and South America. Parts of Australia, as well as other Oceania nations, such as Indonesia, Portugal, Spain, and the state of Hawaii, are also home to this species.
According to a 2014 study in the journal Nature(opens in new tab), scientists believe that the butterflies that started these far-flung populations either hitchhiked rides on ships from North America or flew.
D. refers to the number of teeth in a saw. The population of Erippus does not overlap with D., and it only lives in South America. The genus Polyippus has a very broad distribution. According to MJV, both species have migratory and non-migratory populations.
While there are some migratory monarchs in Australia, the two D. kingman populations are found in North America. “I believe individuals are in awe of them because they have this fantastic migration,” Lukens added. The monarchs of Ultrappus might be the most renowned.
According to Lukens, one of the migratory North American populations resides west of the Rocky Mountains, and the other resides east. Although they have distinct migratory patterns, the two groups are not genetically different.
According to MJV, the monarch butterfly population in eastern Michoacán, Mexico spends the fall and winter roosting in a small area of the mountains. At temperatures of 32 to 59 degrees Fahrenheit (0 to 15 degrees Celsius), butterflies cluster in fir trees.
The monarchs are in a condition of diapause, which is comparable to hibernation, during this time. According to a 2006 study in Integrative and Comparative Biology, they don’t eat; instead, they survive by drawing on fat reserves gathered during their journey south. To keep warm, they shiver as well.
Monarch Butterfly Migration
The Monarch will always lay its eggs on milkweed plants in areas with plenty of them. The milkweed they feed on while feeding as a caterpillar contains a deadly poison, which is retained in their systems.
The Monarch butterfly’s taste is so bad to eat because of this. During a single summer, monarchs may produce four generations.
The first three generations will continue to travel north and have a lifespan of 2 to 5 weeks. They will mate during this period and produce the following generation, which will continue their northward journey.
The fourth generation develops and lives for up to nine months.
Individual butterflies frequently travel farther during times when circumstances are favorable, and the migration advances at a pace of 25-30 miles each day.
The majority of Monarchs come from distances greater than 1,500 miles from the overwintering sites. The migration seems to last around two months, based on observations.
Are They Poisonous?
The majority of potential predators are poisoned by adult monarchs. This is because monarch larvae solely consume milkweed sap, which comprises harmful steroids called cardenolides, according to MJV.
A larva that consumes too much of the plant’s latex might experience temporary paralysis or seizures if it eats too much of the poisonous sap.
According to JourneyNorth, a citizen-science initiative run by the University of Wisconsin-Madison Arboretum, cardanolides, sometimes known as cardiac glycosides, are comparable to digitalis, a plant ingredient used in medicine.
According to a 2018 study published in the journal Current Biology, adult monarchs retain the toxins they consumed as larvae, making them harmful to predators such as birds, frogs and lizards. The monarchs’ vivid hues and large markings are a warning to other animals that they are poisonous.
Some species of birds in Mexico, such as the black-headed grosbeak (Pheucticus melanocephalus), have evolved to enjoy the flavor of monarchs and have no qualms with eating the bitter butterflies, according to a 1981 study published in the journal Nature(opens in new tab).
Monarch Butterfly Tagging
Monarch butterfly migration patterns are being studied every year. Tagging is one of the research methods that is used to link each butterfly’s capture site with its rehabilitation site.
The pathways taken by migrating monarchs, the impact of weather on migration, the monarchs’ survival rate, and other factors are all influenced by data from these recaptures.
Each tagged butterfly has a tag code (three letters and three numbers) assigned by MonarchWatch.org’s tagging system.
The tags are produced on polypropylene sheets with 3M adhesive on the reverse and are printed using waterproof ink. The tags are affixed to a backing material that makes them simple to remove. Each sheet has 25 numbered/tagged groups, arranged in a sequence.
On MonarchWatch.org, you can learn more about tagging and order your tags.
In October of 2015, our enthusiastic young group placed a number of tags on Monarch caterpillars, as seen below.
How Do They Navigate?
According to MJV, scientists believe that traveling insects use a mix of their own clock, the sun, and magnetic sensors to get where they need to go. However, how monarchs cross such vast distances is a mystery.
Monarch butterflies can navigate using a sun compass system, which incorporates signals from the butterflies’ biological clock and the position of the sun, according to research. The butterflies, on the other hand, are most likely equipped with an internal magnetic compass to guide them when monarchs migrate on cloudy days when the sun is hidden.
Monarchs orient themselves using an internal compass that relies on ultraviolet light sensors in their antennae, according to a 2014 study published in the journal Nature(opens in new tab). Even though they can’t see the sun, monarch butterflies can point themselves south when exposed to ultraviolet light.
Monarch butterflies have gotten a lot of conservationist attention as an iconic and beloved species. North America is home to a variety of projects.
People are encouraged to grow milkweed in their yards and cities as a result of public awareness campaigns; find the right species for your area. Regular persons can also assist scientists in gathering information that is vital for establishing monarch protection measures by participating in citizen scientist programs.
Monarchs attract visitors who help to fund their conservation efforts, while monarch sanctuaries safeguard butterflies’ winter habitats. Human development and conflict, on the other hand, pose a danger to some.
To maintain habitat, enhance pollinator management, replenish milkweed, raise awareness, and gather new scientific knowledge about monarchs, there are many larger-scale initiatives underway.