Mighty monarch migration mystifying

Mighty monarch migration mystifying by Bob Karolevitz By now butterflies are gone. Or should be.

For some reason or other we didn�t have as many migrating monarchs at our place this fall. Last year, for instance, there were thousands of the orange and black beauties in our trees, resting up for their long trip to Mexico or wherever they spend the cold season in the southwest.

They�re the original snowbirds!

Something must have gone wrong. Maybe we�ve spent so much time protecting that minnow � the Topeka shiner � that the butterfly population suffered for it.

I was very careful not to eradicate all the milkweed in our fence lines and road ditches because I knew that was a favorite monarch food. But I didn�t see a single one stop off to fill up on nectar for the transcontinental flight. Probably I should have provided dinner music like �Poor Butterfly.�

Still I marvel at the mighty monarch!

How anything so flimsy can survive more than a thousand miles enroute to a winter haven is beyond me, especially when there are so many automobile radiators between here and there.

It could be that we could learn a thing or two from them. When life gets a little rough sometime, think of the delicate monarch being buffeted hither and yon by the Nebraska and Kansas winds. And yet they never give up until they reach their destination!

The life cycle of a butterfly is a lot like that of a salmon, except that the insect becomes something else for a while. The butterfly lays an egg. The egg hatches out a caterpillar. The worm � the bad guy in the process � gobbles up foliage of different kinds and then constructs a cocoon.

Out of that cocoon or chrysalis comes a flutter-by � as kids used to call them � and the cycle starts all over again. The change is called metamorphosis, like a tadpole becoming a frog.

Scientists say there are something like 100,000 different species of butterflies and moths in the world. They were classified by Carolus Linnaeus, the Swedish botanist, before there was a United States, so the study of them goes back a long, long way.

They range from the common yellow sulphur butterfly to exotic varieties found in warm countries like Brazil, Argentina and New Guinea.

I don�t know where the �butter� comes from in their name, but they are sometimes called �flying rainbows� because of their color. There are boy butterflies and girl butterflies, although I can�t tell the difference. I�ll leave that to the insects; somehow they know!

As a child Phyllis spent hours in the alfalfa field catching butterflies. She doesn�t remember what she did with them, but she collected jars full.

Thank goodness that hobby didn�t stay with her. Now, however, butterflying is catching up with bird-watching for camera fiends to do.

I might even be interested myself because it always comes in the warm part of the day. That�s because butterflies can�t maneuver until their wings reach a certain temperature.

You�ve probably seen them perched on a flower in the early morning with wings spread toward the sunlight. They�re absorbing the warmth before they take off.

It�s a fascinating subject, to say the least. I just hope monarchs don�t become an endangered species.

I think I�ll plant a row of milkweed in the garden next year just to do my share.

� 2002 Robert F. Karolevitz

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