Allan Bell’s Birch Bark Nature Notes Revisited
An alert observer, Helen Hanson, spotted a butterfly fluttering around her yard last week. It appeared to be a Monarch, one of our most strikingly colored butterflies that is quite common in the summertime. The problem is, it isn’t summer yet. They are supposed to be wintering in warmer climates, such as Mexico, California or the Caribbean. Or perhaps now heading back north. Isn’t it amazing that those paper-thin wings can propel that featherweight thousands of miles through wind, rain and storms!
The female Monarch lays her eggs on the leaves of milkweed plant. These leaves will be the food for the second stage of the butterfly’s development, which is the larva or caterpillar. Consequently, Monarchs normally come back only when the milkweed is large enough to feed the caterpillars. The eggs hatch in three to five days. The caterpillars then feed for about two weeks before entering the third stage. This is the pupa or chrysalis, again about a two-week development, before a beautiful, adult Monarch butterfly emerges.
Feeding on the milkweed leaves makes the caterpillar distasteful to birds and other predators. The adult butterfly retains this toxic poison, adding to its longevity. None of the above explains the presence of this sighting now. I do not know the answer.
Some butterflies do not migrate, remaining here all winter in cracks and crevices, woodpiles and under tree bark. The morning cloak is one that does this. Couldn’t a Monarch do the same? A smaller, close relative of the Monarch, the Queen, doesn’t migrate. However, this species is usually found in the southeastern U.S. Some species remain in the chrysalis for longer periods of time. If winter intervenes, they may remain there for several months. Do you know what might have happened?
Some years ago, I believe in February, Con Zulker and I were installing plywood subflooring in a home. The plywood had been piled up outside all winter. We brought it in the warm house and stacked it on edge against the wall. Some time later we began to notice mosquitoes flying around. Impossible. We started to hunt for the source and found many of the plywood had numerous mosquitoes on them. They were in a lethargic state, but when they warmed up, they took off.
Late nature writer Allan Bell originally wrote this Birch Bark Nature Notes column for the Tomahawk Leader back on March 10, 1983. In revisiting some of his insight outdoors writings, one can appreciate the thought that Monarch butterflies will eventually, but hopefully not again in March, be fluttering in the sky as the weather warms and the milkweed starts to grow. But mosquitoes in March. I guess that blows the saying about the nice thing about the weather in Wisconsin in winter is that the mosquitoes aren’t bad!