Blog: Carlita the Croc

Monarch butterflies in May…and March!

Monarch butterfliesMay 2nd is Start Seeing Monarchs Day!  Monarch butterflies are one of North America’s most beloved and recognizable butterflies.
 
Well, they are beloved, at least. 
 
Turns out many people mistake any ol’ orange butterfly for a monarch.  I once saw a huge billboard for Mexico tourism that featured a picture of a viceroy butterfly, the monarch’s mimicking cousin.  But, I’m getting ahead of myself.  We’ll come back to how to identify a monarch.
 
Start Seeing Monarchs
 
Why should people start seeing monarchs?  Because they are cool. 
 
Why are they cool?  Well, because they are a really important part of a variety of ecosystems and have unique behaviors that make them one of the wonders of the world. 
 
Monarch butterflies migrate to Mexico if they are east of the Rocky Mountains, and to California if they are west of the Rocky Mountains.  (Viceroys don’t migrate at all, hence the irony of the billboard.)  Over several generations, monarch butterflies make the thousands mile flight to Michoacán, Mexico, and then back to the United States in the spring.  Along the way, they are pollinating flowers and plants and serving as an important food source for animals like birds, mice, spiders, and wasps. 
 
Orange and Black Butterfly
 
There are a lot of orange and black butterflies in the world.  There are a lot of orange and black butterflies in North America.  How does one know which orange and black butterfly is the monarch?  I asked Chicago Zoological Society’s Senior Roving Naturalist Yvette Méndez for tips.  She has spent seven years identifying and interpreting North American butterflies for guests in Brookfield Zoo’s Butterflies! seasonal exhibit.
 
“Monarchs are about the size of a standard Post-It note and tend to rest with their forewings pointing down.  They are a deep orange with inky black edging, and white spots on the black edging. They also have black veins running within the wings.  Their bodies are black and they have six legs, although they usually only use four.” 

Monarch butterfly

It’s a good start, and during the weeks leading up to Start Seeing Monarchs Day, we will be learning more about how to tell the difference between monarchs and other orange butterflies, including the copycat viceroy.  We will also be talking more to Yvette and other experts and providing you with opportunities to test your monarch identification skills!  So keep those eyes peeled, people…it’s time to start seeing monarchs!



Carlita the Croc

I'm Carlita the Croc, here to deliver my candid views on various topics, articles, news, and stories in conservation. For the latest news follow me on Twitter, for striking photos follow me on Instagram.

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