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We have Monarch butterflies and caterpillars: Creating a Monarch Habitat

 
Anne Miller
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Last fall, we had monarch butterflies visit our butterfly and hummingbird garden on their migration from the United States and Canada to where they spend the winter in Mexico.  They wait out the winter in Michocan, Mexico until conditions are favorable for a return flight in the spring. I have not seen the monarch migration, as we only get a few, but it is said to be one of the world's greatest natural wonders, yet it is threatened by habitat loss.


where- to-see-thousands-monarch-butterflies

michoacan-where-monarch-butterflies-migrate

Last year, our butterfly and hummingbird garden had blubonnets, firewheels, marigolds, autumn sage, honey suckle, moss roses, purslane and turk's cap.  This spring we added yarrow, blue sage and milkweed. This year we have had both Monarchs and their caterpillars.  I enjoy watching the caterpillars and picking milkweed seeds.

Simply, a habitat is food, water, and shelter. A habitat for monarchs can be anywhere, as long as  you have milkweed growing there. Key components of a garden habitat:   Gardens should be planted in sunny spots, with some protection from the wind. You can include windbreaks which can be a fence, shrubs, or a wall.  A milkweed species that is native to your area is a good choice to provide food for monarch caterpillars. Monarchs cannot survive without milkweed; their caterpillars only eat milkweed plants (Asclepias spp.), and monarch butterflies need milkweed to lay their eggs. You also need several milkweed plants as the caterpillars are little eating machines. A mix of native nectar plants with different bloom times will provide a stable food source for the butterflies. A combination of early, middle and late blooming species will fuel butterfly while breeding and during the migrations.

How you will use your garden will determine how to plan the space.  You want a sunny location.  Butterflies, bees and hummingbirds like flowers and flowers need sun. Some plants to consider: sunflowers, mistflowers, sages and asters.

For fall: Plant Goldenrod, Frostweed, Autumn sage, Late flowering boneset, Asters, Cowpen daisy in your fall garden to help Monarchs.

Shade options include Columbine, Turk’s Cap, and certain Goldenrods as excellent pollinator plants. 

Butterflies need damp, wet areas to re-hydrate and soak up minerals from the soil. A small swale or even a rain garden can satisfy this need and create a microhabitat within your garden that brings a new pollinator audience to your yard.  We have a bird bath for them which we place in the butterfly garden.  Your trees and flowering plants will also provide shelter from the wind.

Herbicides and pesticides should be avoided, as they can hurt caterpillars and adults.

We have seen several Monarch this fall and some of them laid eggs as we had 6 or 7 caterpillars.


A list of plants [with pictures and details] that Monarch and other butterflies like:

http://monarchbutterflygarden.net/butterfly-plants/

http://www.pollinator.org/guides.htm
 
Anne Miller
pollinator
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Posts: 341
Location: USDA Zone 8a
20
bee dog food preservation greening the desert hunting toxin-ectomy
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I also want to mention that when we bought our milkweed seeds the company gave us a packet of free seeds which we planted.  The company said these were favorite nector plants for the Monarchs.

About eleven mystery plants came up so I had the task of identifying these mystery plants.  I am not knowledgeable enough to identify the until they bloom.

It turns out that we had:

American Basketflower - Centaurea americana  [A+ #1 pollinator plant for bees and butterflies]

American Basketflower

Firewheel aka Indian Blanket - Gaillardia pulchella

Indian Blanket

Mexican Sunflower - Tithonia rotundifolia  [both butterflies and hummingbirds loved this]

Mexican Sunflower

I had trouble identifying this one until I saw a picture of knapweed growing at Wheaton Lab.  It is related to knapweed and is related to the Centaurea [genus]. I can't find the species. Pink flower about the size of a quarter and very delicate with a thistle type recepticle:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Centaurea
 
Casie Becker
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Location: Just northwest of Austin, TX
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We let the native bush sunflowers grow all over in our flower beds and they're definitely one of the favorite plants of all sorts of wildlife, including the monarch butterflies. In early part of the day the plants are dominated by tiny goldfinch harvesting mature seeds (often hanging upside down from the plant to do this). As the afternoon heat sets in we start seeing more of the large orange varieties of butterfly.

Also good, and with a long bloom period are echinacea. Like the sunflower it has a long bloom period and large blossoms for large butterflies to land on. It even has edible seeds for birds. It even fills a human need as a medicinal herb. I would happily let my patches of echinacea expand to take over most of the bed where they are planted.

These are probably the least invasive of the pollinator plants I leave in my garden. Mostly, if it has a flower and it's not directly interfering with anything else I'll leave it to grow. Native bugs recognize these food plants even when we can't name them. Monarchs are just a seasonal show, but most of the year you can find a minimum of half a dozen different species of butterfly (and many more other pollinators) in my yard.

Just remember, you invited those caterpillars that are eating these plants. They evolved together, so your plant will recover after it's done feeding the next generation of butterflies.
 
Anne Miller
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Casie Becker wrote:Just remember, you invited those caterpillars that are eating these plants. They evolved together, so your plant will recover after it's done feeding the next generation of butterflies.


Casie, this is the reason for planting milkweed.  To feed the little eating machines.  I get so excited when I see them just sitting there and eating.  There are several stages in their life before they can become a butterfly and fly to Mexico.

Monarch-caterpillar.jpg
[Thumbnail for Monarch-caterpillar.jpg]
Monarch Caterpillar The little eating machine
Monarch-on-firewheel.jpg
[Thumbnail for Monarch-on-firewheel.jpg]
Monarch on a firewheel blossum
Monarch-on-Mexican-Sunflower.jpg
[Thumbnail for Monarch-on-Mexican-Sunflower.jpg]
Monardh on the Mexican Sunflower bloom
 
Anne Miller
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Location: USDA Zone 8a
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The egg stage lasts only 3 to 4 days. After the Monarch eggs hatch, the caterpillars are also called larva. While the word larva refers to the growth stage of all insects, the word caterpillar refers only to a butterfly or moth in this stage.  It is during this stage that monarchs do all of their growing, these "eating machines" take few breaks.

Larva or caterpillar stage lasts 10 to 14 days. They begin life by eating their eggshell, and then move on to the plant on which they were laid.

When the caterpillar has become too large for its skin, it molts, or sheds its skin. The shed skin is often eaten before the caterpillar ingests more plant food!  The intervals between molts are called instars. Monarchs go through five instars.

The last stage before becoming a butterfly is the Pupa or Chrysalis which lasts 10 to 14 days.

The time span from when the egg was laid to the time the butterflies hatch is 23 to 32 days.

http://www.monarchwatch.org/biology/cycle1.htm

It was a lot of fun watching the little caterpillars eating the milkweed.  It is my understanding  the Monarch are still migrating but I have not seen any in about two weeks.  That is not to say they have not been here, I have just not seen any.  Our milkweed is now covered with Queen butterflies which look like a smaller Monarch when their wings are closed, but look completely different with them open.

 
Anne Miller
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Location: USDA Zone 8a
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Today we had quite a few Monarchs come by on their way to Mexico.  I am thinking they are the last generation and ones that have hatched recently.

Planting milkweed was the best thing we have ever done since it draws the Monarchs to visit us.  Next year we are hoping to learn how to raise the caterpillars.
 
Anne Miller
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Posts: 341
Location: USDA Zone 8a
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We were still seeing Monarchs around the 1st of November making their way to Mexico!

The USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has announced funding for a new conservation effort focused on helping Texas’ private landowners and agricultural producers provide food and habitat for Monarch butterflies. This targeted effort will invest $330,000 in fiscal year 2016 to help combat the iconic species’ decline.

NRCS Announces Funding for Monarch Habitat Restoration

NRCS in Texas has identified 28 high-priority counties that lie within the butterfly’s flight zone: Palo Pinto, Parker, Tarrant, Dallas, Kaufman, Johnson, Ellis, Navarro, McLennan, Limestone, Bell, Burnet, Williamson, Llano, Lee, Gillespie, Blanco, Travis, Hayes, Bastrop, Caldwell, Guadalupe, Comal, Kendall, Bexar, Wilson, Kerr and Atascosa.

This conservation initiative is part of a 10-state national effort targeting the heart of the monarch’s migratory route, with Texas being a key state in that migration pattern. Monarch populations have decreased significantly over the past two decades, from more than 1 billion in 1995 to about 300 million today.
 
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