The monarch butterfly has long been a symbol of life, regeneration, and hope. Widely recognized around the globe, the monarch is known in Central, North, and South America for the beauty of its metamorphosis and multigenerational migration.
Each fall, monarchs travel up to 3,000 miles to overwinter in California and Mexico before returning north to lay their eggs. While one generation of butterflies completes the migration south, the journey north is shared by three or four consecutive generations. The survival of the monarch requires ready access to healthy habitat and food sources along its migration path. Milkweed is the only plant that monarch caterpillars can eat, and the only plant upon which adult monarchs will lay their eggs, making its prevalence critical to the monarch’s survival.
Each butterfly must perform its part for the monarch to reach its final destination, but no singular butterfly can make the journey on its own. Monarchs can serve as a symbol that through the power of the individual and the community, working in tandem, we can effect positive change for people and nature.
Did you know?
Florida and a handful of other southern states are home to nonmigratory populations of monarchs. This is believed to be caused, at least in part, by abundant evergreen milkweed. Non-native, tropical species of milkweed do not share the blooming patterns of native species and therefore may not trigger the butterfly’s natural migration. Research indicates that the annual migration helps protect species health and should be encouraged, which is one reason conservation groups emphasize the importance of planting only native milkweed.
Fun Fact: The scientific name of the monarch butterfly is Danaus plexippus, which means "sleepy transformation," referring to its amazing life cycle.
Eggs are laid on milkweed plants and take about 4 days to hatch - they can be hard to spot, as they are are only the size of the head of a pin.
2. Larva (Caterpillar)
Caterpillars beef up on milkweed and prepare for the next stage of their transformation, metamorphosis. This stage lasts about 2 weeks, during which caterpillars gain more than 2,000 times their original mass.
3. Pupa (Chrysalis)
The caterpillar develops a hard shell and spends roughly 10 days growing and transforming into its final stage.
4. Adult (Butterfly)
The caterpillar emerges from its chrysalis transformed into a beautiful butterfly. The adult monarch will then spend the next 2 to 6 weeks flying from plant to plant collecting nectar—and pollinating flowers, finding a mate, and laying eggs of its own to start the next generation. Migratory monarchs (emerging in late summer) live up to 9 months! They delay reproduction until the spring, and instead fatten up on nectar and travel to their overwintering site to survive the winter.
Pollinators of all varieties are important, not just honeybees! Butterflies, moths, native bees, beetles, ants, bats, and even hummingbirds are all pollinators. The federal government estimates that native wild pollinators contribute $9 billion annually in crop benefits to U.S. farmers. Many of our favorite foods—apples, potatoes, tomatoes, strawberries, and onions—as well as staples like cheese, butter, sugar, and meat rely on pollinators. They are vital to our food supply. In fact, the work of pollinators accounts for 1 out of every 3 bites of food we eat! Unfortunately for this pollinator, monarchs are under threat from habitat loss, climate change, and unsustainable development policies and practices. These global conservation issues also impact other pollinator species and wildlife, and threaten critical resources we all need, including food, water, and clean air.
But fear not - there is plenty you can do to help save the monarch. Check out our Get Involved page for more information on what you can do to protect this amazing and beautiful pollinator. The Nature Conservancy works throughout Florida and across the globe to create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world’s toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. Guided by science, we are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at unprecedented scale, and helping make cities more sustainable. Impacting more than 72 countries, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners.
Did you know?
Milkweed protects the monarch from predators! The plant itself contains toxins, harmless to the monarch, but harmful to those looking to snack on one. The monarch's bright orange coloration is actually a warning to predators to stay away.