The monarchs’ boudoir

[Some of you may not know that these stunning butterflies have become iconic in US environmental circles because they make an epic migration annually from New England to Mexico and back, depend entirely on milkweed, and their numbers are dropping.]

I do hope you are not sick of monarchs, because I have some very intimate photos for you this time around.

Monarch life starts when two consenting adults meet:

Monarchs mating

The male grasps the female’s abdomen with his claspers, and hangs on. Usually he is the one on top, and she dangles underneath. The mechanics are mainly shielded by their wings, but I caught a glimpse:

Monarchs mating

They remain joined for anything between one and eighteen hours! They can fly around while conjoined like this: here the one on the left is being towed backwards and upside down through the air by the other:

Monarchs mating

This pair started in my flowerbed, flew up high into a small birch tree (I stood on a ladder to photograph them), descended to a goldenrod, and then flew up into a huge spruce, at which point I gave up.

In the fullness of time, the female lays her egg, and eventually a tiny caterpillar emerges. (I showed you the egg and first stage caterpillar in an earlier post.)

A caterpillar is basically a tube. Food (milkweed leaves) goes in one end:

Monarch caterpillar

and out the other:

Monarch caterpillar

Just like toddlers, they grow inexorably, and eventually they split their skins, to reveal a new one waiting underneath. (Why don’t human children have a new set of clothes waiting underneath the old ones?) Anyway, in this photo the old discarded shriveled skin is sitting in a little heap just behind the freshly garbed caterpillar, whose antennae are still bent and floppy, showing that he/she has only just emerged.

Monarch caterpillar moulting

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