Wednesday, September 13, 2017
Consider the Monarchs
We are studying monarch butterflies in our nature journaling classes this week. Their incredible life cycle and migration story are captivating and awe-inspiring. These delicate creatures of beauty, seemingly so vulnerable, will soon make a 2,500 mile migration journey to spend the winter in Mexico. It might take them almost 2 months to get to Mexico, traveling 50-100 miles a day and as high up as 11,000 feet. But they will find their way to the very same tree their great-great-grandparents roosted in last year!
Understanding the monarch generations opens up a whole new appreciation for what is happening right now. There are four generations of monarch butterflies that hatch each summer. The first generation, the children of the Mexican migration, hatch in April/May on the first shoots of milkweed that appear in spring. Those butterflies will live only 2-6 weeks and lay their eggs for the second generation. The generations continue over the course of the summer until September and October (right now!!).
The butterflies that are hatching right now won't die after 2-6 weeks. They are going to live 6-8 months! It will be this fourth generation that takes flight sometime soon and heads south for the winter.
I have two chrysalises hanging in my kitchen right now -- I watched their mother lay them, as eggs, on the milkweed out front. She was probably from the third generation and will never see Mexico. Her life may not be as full of adventure but her life is crucial to the unbroken link of generations. Her eggs hatched, the caterpillars grew (2,700 times their original size) and now the fourth generation is preparing to hatch and fulfill its destiny.
Did you know it's easy to tell a male and female monarch apart? Google a picture -- the male has prominent black spots on it's hind wings. I can't wait to see if we have males or females in our chrysalises.
It's taken four years of waiting to find these first monarch caterpillars on my milkweed plants. Next year I plan to add butterfly weed and swamp milkweed to my garden in hopes of attracting more monarchs. The presence, and proliferation, of monarchs is a good indication of how other pollinators in the area are doing -- low numbers of monarchs doesn't bode well for pollination in general.
The life of the monarch brings the great theological topic of God's providence right down into practical gardening terms -- God's providence is his most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing all his creatures and all their actions. Think about every variable in the monarch yearly cycle and how vulnerable the butterflies are. Yet God provides for this cycle to continue year after year, putting that instinct into the 4th generation to fly to Mexico. If God cares for the seemingly insignificant butterflies how much more is he caring for you and me?