A question often asked, “how can you tell if it’s a male or female Monarch Butterfly?”
Female (left) and male Monarch (right)
The difference is easy to see when you are looking at the upper side of the butterfly’s wings. On the hind wings of the male Monarch are two black dots, one dot on each hind wing. These dots are actually pockets filled with pheromones, or “love dust.” When the male and female meet, he sprinkles his love dust, and if she is receptive, the pair will join abdomen to abdomen, where they stayed coupled together for several hours.
You can also see the difference by comparing wing veination. The females wing veins are thicker and smokier, the male’s wing veins are thinner.
During the summer breeding months, you can often tell the difference by behavior, especially when near a patch of milkweed. The males vigorously fly about looking for females, whereas the females are more slowly flitting and hovering around the foliage, looking for places on which to oviposit her eggs. Their behavior during the fall migration is such that both male and female are intently drinking nectar, building their lipid reserves for the long journey south.
Next time you see a Monarch in your garden, have a look and see if you can tell whether male or female.
Male and female Monarchs mating and ascending to a Maple Tree from “Beauty on the Wing: Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly” illustrated book (unpublished).
Some press for the show that I have been working on with the BBC! The shows air October 17-19th, at 8pm. I don’t know yet which night the Cape Ann Monarchs episode will play, but will let you know.
– Travel journalist Samantha Brown, wildlife cinematographer Bob Poole and BBC presenter Chris Packham host the live nature show celebrating fall in New England –
PBS announced, as part of its co-production partnership with the BBC, that a new three-part live event, AUTUMNWATCH – NEW ENGLAND, will air Wednesday-Friday, October 17-19, 2018, at 8:00-9:00 p.m. ET (check local listings).
Travel journalist Samantha Brown, BBC presenter Chris Packham and wildlife cinematographer Bob Poole will host the multi-platform television experience from alongside Squam Lake, New Hampshire. Similar in format to PBS’ previous summer spectacles BIG BLUE LIVE and WILD ALASKA LIVE, the new series will include a mix of live feeds and pre-taped footage from across New England.
Unique to AUTUMNWATCH – NEW ENGLAND, the live event will focus on cultural traditions and historical sites in addition to local wildlife and the colorful gold and red landscapes in the region that’s best known for them.
To accomplish this, local experts in food, wildlife, music, literature, and history will join the trio of hosts each night to showcase characteristics special to New England.
“In AUTUMNWATCH – NEW ENGLAND, audiences will experience exquisite outdoor adventures while surrounded by nature’s most picturesque imagery,” said Bill Gardner, Vice President, Programming & Development, PBS. “We look forward to partnering with the BBC once again to present this ambitious live production and share this American experience with PBS and BBC viewers.”
AUTUMNWATCH – NEW ENGLAND cameras will be there to capture time-lapse changes of fall foliage; a quest for majestic moose in Maine; the Monarch butterfly migration through Cape Ann, key wildlife species like squirrels, chipmunks and turkey gangs as they invade backyards in preparation for the winter months; and the critters like owls, bats and bears that make the most of nighttime.
Audiences can expect to see segments that highlight Native American history and traditions, Halloween traditions, regional fairs and the many farms that provide the region with its rich varieties of apples, pumpkins, cranberries and maple syrups.
“I’m thrilled that AUTUMNWATCH is moving to New England for this very special week of live programming,” Tom McDonald, BBC Head of Commissioning, Natural History and Specialist Factual, said. “The teams are heading to one of the most iconic locations in the USA to experience the great American ‘fall’ for what promises to be an unforgettable chapter in the Watches’ history.”
Female (left) and male (right) Monarch Butterfly. These two beauties (warming their wings on native wildflower New England Aster) eclosed (emerged) during the BBC filming of the Monarch migration through Cape Ann.
The New England Asters and Quilled Coneflowers blooming in our garden during the months of September and October were planted to provide sustenance for migrating Monarchs. Although both are native wildflowers, the bees and butterflies visiting gardens at this time of year are much more interested in nectaring at the New England Asters.
Plant the following four native beauties and I guarantee, the pollinators will come!
New England Aster (Aster novae-angliae)
Seaside Goldenrod (Solidago sempervirens)
Marsh Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata)
Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca)
Female Monarch curling her abdomen to the underside and depositing eggs on Marsh Milkweed foliage.
Below is a list of some favorite nectar- and pollen-rich bee-friendly North American wildflowers for attracting native bees and honey bees to your gardens. They are listed in order of bloom time, from spring through late summer, to provide your foragers with nourishment all growing season long.
Monarchs usually arrive in our region by the first week in July and go through several brood cycles. This year, barely any arrived. The Monarch’s sensitivity to temperature and dependence on milkweed make it vulnerable to environmental changes. Since 1994, U.S. and Mexican researchers have recorded a steady decline in the Monarch population in their overwintering grounds, with 2012-2013 being the lowest recorded to date.
Temperature change and habitat loss affect breeding success and longevity. Dr. Chip Taylor, a leading Monarch researcher at the University of Kansas reports that the widespread adoption of GMO corn and soybean crops resistant to herbicides, along with with intensive herbicide use, coupled with the federal government’s incentivized expansion of corn and soy acreage for the production of biofuels have caused a significant drop in milkweed throughout the heart of the Monarch’s range. Lack of milkweed equals no Monarchs. “Monarch/milkweed habitat has declined significantly in parallel with the rapid adoption of glyphosate-tolerant corn and soybeans and, since 2006, the rapid expansion of corn and soy acreage to accommodate the production of biofuels,” Taylor wrote on May 29.
Monarchs Nectaring at Seaside Goldenrod
What can we do? Encourage conservation organizations that conserve Monarch habitat, plant milkweed, plant nectar plants, and raise caterpillars. Hopefully the weather next spring and early summer will be more conducive to the Monarch’s northward migration and breeding success, and if and when the Monarchs arrive, they will find our milkweed plants.
Monarch Butterflies Nectaring at New England Asters
If anyone sees a Monarch, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment in the comment section.
Update: For more information, see previous GMG posts on Monarchs and Milkweed:
Last night I gave a talk on Fragrant Gardening at a sportmen’s club in Plymouth. In looking through images to update my presentation, I found two photos that had previously been overlooked. The first photo is of a Painted Lady nectaring at the sweetly scented butterfly bush ‘Nanho Purple,’ which blooms continuously throughout the summer. You can see she is a Painted Lady because of the four concentric circles, or “eyespots,” on the underside of her hindwing.
The second photo is of a Monarch nectaring at New England Aster ‘Alma Potchke,’ taken at a friend’s garden on Eastern Point. Our native New England asters have a wonderful spicy sweet earthy fragrance and are one the most potently fragrant asters found. New England asters bloom typically from late August through September.
The third photo I’ve posted before and it is of an American Lady nectaring at Korean Daisies. You can tell she is an American Lady by her two comparatively larger eyespots. Unlike hybridized chrysanthemums, which are usually bred for color, Korean Daisies are the straight species and are fabulously fragrant. Their period of florescence is from September through October, oftentimes into early November; only a hard frost stops their bloom power.
With just these three beauties, one could have a staggered and continuously fragrant garden in bloom from July through November–and create Mecca for butterflies on the wing.