Spring is officially in the air and, with the beginning of May, it’s time for the second generation of Monarch butterflies to hatch. These beautiful and amazing insects are often used to help illustrate many life lessons for our young children. Sometimes, though, it’s important to teach them about the symbol itself.
How much do you know about the Monarch butterfly, other than their characteristic stained-glass-window appearance?
For example, did you know May is an important time in the life of a butterfly? It is during this month that the second generation of monarch larvae emerge from their eggs. These baby caterpillars work hard to eat as much milkweed as they can in two weeks. They need to grow big enough to find a good place to attach and start the process of turning into a butterfly.
You probably know that the caterpillar, once attached, spins itself a cocoon where it hibernates until it transforms. In case you’ve found an attached caterpillar and want to watch for when the butterfly might come out, it takes about 10 days for a caterpillar to grow its wings.
After it flies away, the butterfly will spend the next 2-6 weeks enjoying its life as a butterfly. It feeds on the nectar of flowers and seeks a good place to lay its eggs before it dies, usually around mid-June to mid-July, making way for the third generation of monarchs which will be born in July and August.
Maybe it seems strange to you that I keep mentioning the generations. The reason for this is that the 1st-3rd generations all have these fairly short life cycles, but the fourth generation is different.
This generation is born about September, but instead of dying in 2-6 weeks, these butterflies begin their great 2,500 migration to the warmer temperatures in the south. They take it easy down here until about February or March, meaning they live 6-8 months, before they move back up north again to lay their eggs and the cycle begins again.
As crazy as it is that this fourth generation of butterflies lives somewhere around 12 times as long as the first three generations, the butterflies always spend their winter vacations in the same trees as the last group of butterflies.
In recent years, the population of the Monarch butterfly has been declining because the trees they like to nest in are missing. Many are cut down for new buildings, while others are destroyed by fire or drought.
Something fun you can do with your preschooler this spring is plant a butterfly garden to help these fascinating creatures to always find a home with you.