Sunday, October 27, 2013

Monarch Butterfly Question

Question from a reader:

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Clark,
    I am a kindergarten teacher in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  My class and I have raised Monarch butterflies from eggs that I've collected in a nearby meadow.
While feeding the caterpillars, I inadvertently brought in more eggs.  Two went through the five instar stages and made chrysalises.  They are due to emerge on the 29th of October.  One is still a fifth instal and about to make a chrysalis.  
    I know the migrating population of Monarchs that went through the Midwest had trouble finding sources of nectar due to the drought.  I saw on the internet that 
southeast Texas still had nectar-rich flowers in abundance in early October.  Do you think their will still be such flowers available in early to mid November? This is where my Monarchs would be passing through, if luck is on their side. I would appreciate your opinion.  
    The Durham Museum of LIfe and Sciences has a a Magic Wings Butterfly House and will take the Monarchs butterflies if I bring them in. I know this generation is programmed for Mexico.  The weather prediction is for a warming trend in this area next week.  My inclination is to send them on south if their is a source of food along the way.  If their isn't, I'll probably take the Monarchs to the museum.
     I would appreciate your considered opinions.  
     Thanks in advance,

My Answer:

Hello Patricia,
First, I deeply admire what you're doing.  The educational value to your young students will pay dividends for Monarch butterflies and for nature throughout the 21st century.  

I am not sure what I would do.  We do have plenty of milkweed along the Texas Coast.  I wrote a column urging people to plant milkweed in their yards.  I was swamped with emails from readers who asked where to get the milkweed or from people who had gone out and bought milkweed.  Most gratifying.  

You are correct that Monarchs are "hard-wired" to migrate to Mexico.  I'm sure they would do fine at Magic Wings Butterfly House; and, I am also sure that if kept in the facility, their progeny would migrate to Mexico next year.  What I can't be sure of is that they would make it to Michoachan this year.  It would depend on weather and supplies of milkweed.  They would certainly move down the Texas Coast as you know, and they should find mild weather and plenty of milkweed. But Chappell Hill to the Texas Coast might be a precarious journey. 

I've always been a proponent of letting nature take its course.  As you know from evolution, nature favors the most adaptable over the least adaptable. Which means, at least theoretically, if your Monarchs or at least some of them make it to Michoachan, their progeny might be more adaptable than if left in Chappell Hill.  

All that said, we humans have so disrupted the environment that my old saw about letting nature take its course may or may not allow traditional adaptabilities.  Nature will take its course, but that course may not be quite as predictable as it was a long time ago when I was young.  

So, after all my ranting, here's my advice.  Do what your brain tells you is best.