Backyard Monarchs

Posted 9/18/06
by Jane Kashlak

Every fall, there's a day or two or three that brings a massive Monarch migration to Cape May. Thousands of butterflies flutter along the beach, towards the Delaware Bay and, eventually,to Mexico.

Everyone always wants to know when the Monarchs will be passing through, as though these beautiful butterflies have a secret signal they pass on to a few cognoscenti about their travel plans.

But those show stopping days aren't the only monarch migrations. For those of us who live here, we see the migration up close and personal in our own backyards on an almost daily basis.

It starts when a couple of Monarchs from up north flutter into our garden and do what comes naturally, eventually laying eggs on our patch of tropical milkweed.

Soon we have one, two, three, as many as a dozen or more caterpillars, all chowing down on the milkweed leaves until all that's left are bare sticks.

After the leaves are chewed up, the caterpillars disappear.

Then we begin finding them - green jewel like chrysalises dotted with spots of gold, spun by the caterpillars to hide in while they become butterflies.

There's one under the thyme plant, two hanging from the back stairway, another hooked onto a cedar tree.

Every day we make the rounds of the chrysalises, looking for any sign that the Monarchs might be breaking through.

It only takes a minute for a butterfly to emerge. And one morning, we happen to be at the cedar tree just as the Monarch climbs out of her chrysalis. What a sight. She hangs quietly, adjusting to the new surroundings.

Once out, Monarchs spread their wings to dry. Then they hungrily savor sips of late flowering butterfly bushes, asters and salvias.

As exciting as it is to watch these newly emerged Monarchs, we're getting anxious. Isn't it a little late. Don't they have a long journey ahead of them???

One morning, we walk out the back door and there are no monarchs fluttering by the butterfly bushes. They've joined the rest of the pack, heading south.

We're both sad and happy.

Sad to see them go. Happy that they're finally on their way.

Best of luck, you guys.

Gotta remember to buy more tropical milkweed seed next spring. The cycle starts again.

If you want to know more about Monarchs, stop by Cape May Point State Park for their regular Monarch programs during the fall.

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