Tom's Blog

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Monarch butterfly fueling up for a long flight

As the summer flowers disappear, lots of butterflies are disappearing also. The Monarchs are still around but are spending their time fueling up in preparation for their fall migration. Today at Pleasant Valley Conservancy a butterfly aficionado saw 50 Monarchs feeding on a large patch of New England aster (Aster novae-angliae). I missed that view but did manage to get a nice photo of a single Monarch working over a nice patch of the aster.

New England aster is a fairly common aster, and lots of botanists tend to snub it, but it is certainly one of the handsomest asters of the fall flora. We have it in both our prairies and open savannas. Interestingly, we have two color phases of New England aster, the deep purple shown here, and a lighter, more reddish color. Both seem to occur in the same areas, sometimes side by side, so I assume the color variation is genetic.

Monarchs (
Danaus plexippus) are fairly common and the butterfly folks don't get too excited about them, but they are readily identifiable, and their fall migration is a fascinating story. Many of the migrating Monarchs end up in a Mexican mountain area which has now been turned into Mariposa Monarca Biosphere Preserve in Michoacan province. I did field research in that province 35 years ago; at that time it was very primitive and undeveloped. Now, I'm sure it is vastly improved. I hope not so much improved that the Monarchs are in danger.


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