On a warm sunny day in late September the Monarch butterflies at the Paul Smith’s College Visitors Interpretive Center (VIC) readied for their journey to Mexico. In our butterfly house we tag monarchs so they can be tracked on their journey south. They are tagged with small stickers and given individual numbers. This year one very special Monarch from our butterfly house, number AAMZ679, was found in El Rosario, Mexico! This means this Monarch butterfly traveled 3,000 miles from the Butterfly House to reach El Rosario!
The monarch’s journey south starts from a tiny white egg laid on milkweed. After 4-6 days a yellow and black striped monarch caterpillar emerges. Over the next 10-14 days the caterpillar eats from milkweed leaves until it is fully grown. Next the monarch will shed its skin for the fifth time and form a chrysalis. After 14 more days the caterpillar transforms into a butterfly.
The monarch butterflies born in late August enter a state of diapause. Diapause is suspended reproductive development triggered by changing day length and temperature. Diapause allows the monarchs to live for up to 9 months which is long enough to migrate south and lay eggs. During the migration south the fall blooming wildflower, goldenrod, is an essential food source for the monarchs. Goldenrod is one of the last blooming wildflowers in the year, without it the monarch butterflies would not survive. In the spring the next generation of Monarchs will travel north and repeat the entire migration cycle.
Not all monarch butterflies migrate south. Monarch butterflies born early in the summer will only live a few weeks which is long enough to mate and lay eggs. All the butterflies that live in the Butterfly House at the VIC are caught with nets by the staff. The butterfly house is filled with milkweed which makes it the perfect habitat for monarch Butterflies. Milkweed leaves are the only leaves that a monarch caterpillar will eat. Milkweed also protects Monarchs from predators. Milkweed contains a toxic substance called cardenolide. Monarch caterpillars have a resistance to the substance and can ingest it. This toxic substance makes monarchs taste bad to predators and protects them from being eaten.
Come check out our Butterfly House at the VIC, admission is always free! We have many different species of butterflies, caterpillars, and moths. You also can come to the Butterfly House to learn more about the tagging process to track the monarch’s migration. The Butterfly House just celebrated its 27th anniversary! The Butterfly House managers, Cindy and Stephanie, look forward to meeting you! The Butterfly House is open every day through Labor Day from 11am to 4pm.
The Paul Smith’s College Visitors Interpretive Center Butterfly House and Monarch tagging program is funded by the Adirondack Park Institute and from donations by visitors to the facility.