Monarch butterfly mating dance

This past year I selected my best photos of monarch butterflies from egg to emerged adult, to create a poster illustrating the monarch’s life cycle.

Monarch Butterfly life cycle posterI was most thrilled to get photos of the wonder of a monarch creating, and then shedding, its chrysalis. Here it’s pupating:

Monarch caterpillar pupating

After about two weeks it emerged (also called eclosing):

Monarch butterfly eclosing

In all my time photographing monarchs I never imagined I’d be able to capture one depositing an egg on milkweed; their visits to the garden are sadly rare, and the female leaves her eggs quickly and flits away. But disciplining myself to bring my camera whenever I went into the garden finally paid off. One day this summer I saw a female ovipositing, and quickly grabbed some photos before she flew off.

Moanrch butterfly laying egg

The cycle was finally complete, I thought, but of course I forgot one crucial part: mating! Yesterday George and I took a road trip to a local overwintering spot for monarchs, and were joyously watching several large clusters in the eucalyptus trees. Many lone butterflies were also flying around.

Monarch butterfly cluster

Noticing one fluttering its wings in the grass, I went to see whether it was stuck and needed help. I called George over, and with his keen naturalist eyes he spotted what I had missed; there were two.

Monarchs mating

And they were mating!

Monarchs mating

Here the male fluttered his wings over the female.

Monarch butterflies mating

And now they’re attached.

Monarch butterflies mating

Since it was almost evening, they probably stayed on the ground overnight because monarchs can’t fly if their body temperature goes below about 55 F (13 C).

And now the cycle truly is complete! Has Mother Nature thrilled you lately? If so, let us know!

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2 comments on “Monarch butterfly mating dance

  1. solarbeez says:

    Excellent photos. That one of a bunch of butterflies would make a great jigsaw puzzle. 🙂
    Okay, I’m extremely envious. I would have loved to get close up photos like that!
    I’m planting some Butterflyweed seed (Asclepias incarnata, A. tuberosa) hoping to attract some Monarchs. The seeds have germinated, but I’m finding out this is a long term project…like three years before they bloom. 😦

    I couldn’t tell exactly where you’re writing from, but if you’re talking about BART, you must be in the SFBay area. When our daughter lived in Oakland-Berkeley area, we used BART often…very nice system.

    • Heidi Rand says:

      Thank you! Yes, it was so thrilling to witness. You’re right, we’re in the East Bay just above Berkeley. Our native milkweed takes a long time to bloom also, so we’ve made concessions and planted several different kinds of non-native milkweed and most of them are much more productive. We had been using seeds and also some small established plants, but were shocked to learn that even the “pure” nursery near us applied pesticides to their milkweed plants. They told us they were required to, and they put a warning that the plants shouldn’t be used as food for monarchs for a year — but of course that’s hard to control, we have to monitor it to make sure no caterpillars find it.

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