Thursday, July 29, 2010

Monarchs in Young, AZ

I was surprised to hear monarch butterflies were in Young. It was early July when Ken Furtado saw his first monarch at Q Ranch, nestled in the hills at the end of a long dirt road drive, just outside of  Young. So Bob and I just had to see this new find and explore their habitat, favored milkweed, and nectar. This is the breeding season for monarchs, so if we were lucky we might find monarch caterpillars, too.

Ken took these photos of a female monarch nectaring on False Mesquite, Calliandra humilis, on Saturday morning around 8:30 a.m. The monarch looks like it is in very good condition with rich color and just a tiny hole in its left wing. If you look closely, you can see its long proboscis deep in the flower, savoring its rich energy supply. Ken also saw an occasional monarch feeding on Silverleaf Nightshade, Solanum elaeagnifolium. While the monarchs in Young are obviously quite comfortable finding these flowers as nectar sources, we have not heard of these used by monarchs in Arizona before.

This is a close-up view of  False Mesquite, Calliandra humilis, a member of the pea family. A small plant just near two inches tall that tends to hug the ground, it can spread to eight inches. The plant often grows in grassy fields as well as dry outcroppings. Yet monarchs and other butterflies have no problem burrowing through the blades of grass to reach its nectar.

Asclepias subverticillata, Horsetail or Poison Milkweed, was just starting to bloom. Soon the fields will sparkle with white flowers making the patches easier to find.

 We found small thickets of Asclepias subverticillata hidden in the grasses around Q Ranch and nearby hills. We didn't see any eggs or caterpillars, but maybe we will soon. Both monarch and queen butterflies use milkweed as a host plant.

Nearby there were fields of Prickle Poppies sheltering hidden treasures of Asclepias subverticillata. Earlier in the Spring cattle grazed this meadow.

 We also found alfalfa nestled in the milkweed patches side by side. The wide variety of local butterflies in the area often enjoyed its nectar.

Many butterflies savor milkweed's rich energy. We found about ten queens, most in fresh and new condition.
A Gray Hairstreak feeding on Horsetail Milkweed.

Two Juniper Hairstreaks ravishing the milkweed's rich nectar.

The colorful Variegated Fritillary stops to refuel.

We did find huge ant hills here and there. Ants devour monarch and queen eggs. 

You never know what you will find while exploring! At first I thought we found a plastic bag, violating the pristine rolling meadows. On closer look we found a snake skin shed as this desert dweller was returning home.

A special thank you to Jonathan Rogers, owner of Q Ranch, and Ken Furtado for their warm hospitality, great food and the generous gift of their time. Q Ranch abounds with archaelogical treasures, Arizona history, and has a wealth of birds, butterflies, lizards - nature at her finest! While the number of monarchs who visit each year is not great, they do return every summer. Plans are in the making for a Nature and Monarch tagging weekend at this remote location next year.

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