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mating and ascending to a Maple Tree from “Beauty on the Wing: Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly” illustrated book (unpublished).
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The Monarch last to eclose departed on Wednesday, November 15th. Although the air temperature was only in the low 40s when I left for work, the sun was shining. Our front porch faces southwest so it wasn’t long before his wings were warmed by the sun’s rays and away he flew. The forecast for parts further south along the east coast, the next leg of his journey–Westport, Long Island, and the Jersey shore–looked promisingly mild. Thank you to my friend Patti Papows for the gift of this last little trooper.
We in the Northeast aren’t alone; I am reading reports about late comers from all around the United States, and even as far north as Toronto, Canada. So few Atlantic coast Monarchs were seen last year, do the great numbers this year portend of a permanent population increase? Bare in mind that the Monarchs were formerly counted in the billions when first discovered in the late 1970s, and now, forty years later, only millions.
A cold New England spring was offset by an unseasonably warm fall and that certainly helped the Monarchs (and myriad species of Lepidoptera). In response to the vast areas of farm acreage that no longer supports butterflies and bees, due to the use of Monsanto’s Roundup Ready genetically modified seeds of corn, soybean, and sorghum, people all across the U.S. are planting milkweed, creating pollinator habitats, and finding alternatives to pesticides and herbicides.
Monarchs Eastern Point Lighthouse Daybreak
With Thanksgiving only a few days away I am writing with the deepest appreciation and gratitude to my community for your tremendous contributions to Beauty on the Wing. From donations of $5.00 to $10,000.00, from over 70 donors, to date we have raised $24,710.00. We are well on our way to reaching our goal! Your kind words, contributions, and friendships mean the world. We are going to make an outstanding, thoughtful and thought-provoking film about the Monarchs that along the way, through storytelling and cinematography, shines a beautiful light on Cape Ann.
MY DEEPEST THANKS AND APPRECIATION TO LAUREN MERCADANTE (PRODUCER), SUSAN FREY (PRODUCER), NEW ENGLAND BIOLABS FOUNDATION, BOB AND JAN CRANDALL, MARY WEISSBLUM, SHERMAN MORSS, PETE AND BOBBI KOVNER (ANNISQUAM AND LEXINGTON), JAY FEATHERSTONE, MIA NEHME (BEVERLY), CHICKI HOLLET, JUNI VANDYKE, ERIC HUTCHINSE, KAREN MASLOW, MARION F., ELAINE M., KIMBERLY MCGOVERN, MEGAN HOUSER (PRIDES CROSSING), JIM VANBUSKIRK (PITTSBURGH) NANCY MATTERN (ALBUQUERQUE), DONNA STOMAN, PEGGY O’MALLEY, JOEY C., CATHERINE RYAN, JOEANN HART, JANE PAZNIK BONDARIN (NEW YORK), ROBERT REDIS (NEW YORK), NUBAR ALEXANIAN, PETER VAN DEMARK, PATRICIA VAN DERPOOL, FRED FREDERICKS (CHELMSFORD), LESLIE HEFFRON, JIM MASCIARELLI, DAVE MOORE (KOREA), LILIAN AND CRAIG OLMSTEAD, JOHN STEIGER, PAT DALPIAZ, AMY KERR, BARBARA T. (JEWETT, NY), ROBERTA C. ((NY), MARIANNE G. (WINDHAM, NY), PAULA RYAN O’BRIEN (WALTON, NY), MARTHA SWANSON, KIM TEIGER, JUDITH FOLEY (WOBURN), PATTI SULLIVAN, RONN FARREN, SUSAN NADWORNY (MELROSE), DIANE LINDQUIST (MANCHESTER), HEIDI SHRIVER (PENNSYLVANIA), JENNIFER CULLEN, TOM HAUCK, AND ANONYMOUS PERSONS FOR THEIR GENEROUS HELP.
Too cold for the last of our intrepid Monarchs to fly away today.
Our last little Monarch to emerge struggled to gain the warmth needed for takeoff. What is the minimum air temperature needed to allow Monarchs to fly? When at Cape May several weeks ago and witnessing a large overnight roost of butterflies, the air temperature the following morning was the same as Gloucester’s temperature this morning–low forties–but the sun was shining. No sunshine today, combined with the low temperature, made flying impossible. Monarchs cluster together in overnight roosts for warmth. Our little guy was all alone on an isolated branch and with temperatures expected to dip into the mid thirties, I brought him indoors for the night.
Why the late season stragglers? Warmer than usual fall temperatures allowed eggs and caterpillars to reach maturity when in colder years, freezing temperatures would have prevented development
Some Monarchs begin migrating southward as early as August. And as we have seen, during the warm fall season of 2017 in particular, as late as November. The Monarch migration continues until halted by freezing temperatures. This staggered migration is yet another chapter in the survival strategy of the Monarch’s life story. If all Monarchs began migrating at exactly the same time, a powerful storm or hurricane, such as Harvey or Irma, could have devastating consequences on a great many Monarchs.
Bees and butterflies, as we all know, pollinate flowers, but did you know that bats, songbirds, hummingbirds, wasps, beetles, moths, flies, midges, and even nasty mosquitoes also deliver pollen from plant to plant?
Flower pollinating Green-eyed Wasp drinking nectar from Common Milkweed florets.
The eyes of the male Green-eyed Wasp are larger than the females, all the better to see her, and predators. Green-eyed Wasps are also known as sand wasps because females excavate burrowing nests in sand (as well as soil).
Male Monarch Butterfly flitting about our garden and drinking nectar from the Marsh Milkweed florets.
Notice the mass of orange Milkweed Aphids in the background. Lady Beetles are another pollinator super hero because they help milkweed plants by eating aphids.
For Devera, who wrote in asking how to tell the difference between a male and female Monarch Butterfly ~
Click photos to view large.
The first photos shows all male Monarch Butterflies necatring at Seaside Goldenrod. Notice the pair of little black pockets, or dots, on the inner vein of the hind wings. These are pockets of pheromones, or what scientists actually refer to as “love dust,” which the male sprinkles on the female during courtship.
The female Monarch Butterfly lacks the the black pockets on her hind wings. Notice too that her wing veination is thicker and smokier.
During courtship, male and female join, and he carries her to higher ground. This photo shows the male and female mating, with the male above.