Thursday, January 20, 2011

Monarch Butterfly Freeze Survivors

Despite the big freeze in early January, monarch butterflies are flourishing at the Rio Salado Habitat Restoration Area in downtown Phoenix. Five to seven monarchs grace the Seep Willow and Sweet Bush near the upper trails regularly once the temperatures rise above the mid-50's.

 Many of the monarchs at Rio Salado are showing signs of wear as the winter progresses as you can see in this excellent photo by Laura Miller. Over-wintering monarchs can live six months or more and scales on their wings get damaged over time as they fly through branches and general weathering. This kind of wear is common and a harbinger of their overwintering status.


Queen butterflies, also members of the Danaus family, share their favorite nectar sources making a regular show.

The news isn't as promising at the Desert Botanical Garden or the riparian area near McClintock and the Salt River in Tempe where colder microclimates may have affected monarch populations. Desert Botanical Garden reported temperatures of only 22 degrees in early January and monarchs presence is absent since prior to the freeze. The McClintock/Salt River riparian area featured five monarchs the day of the freeze and none since.
The news isn't all grim - Tatsuyo on South Mountain hosts several newly eclosed monarch butterflies! Just this week two males and one female emerged from their chrysalis and stay nearby nectaring on calendula...




...and other trees in bloom.

 Even more exciting, Tatsuyo has 13 monarch larvae of different sizes! Most of the eggs for these caterpillars were layed in late November and early December. Cold temperatures have slowed their growth progress.

Tatsuyo also has several chrysalids, like this one that was ready to eclose when we visited on Tuesday. A monarch chrysalis will turn clear about a day before it will eclose. Yesterday a female monarch joined the monarchs in her yard.


Restoring monarch habitat is key to their survival here in Arizona and across the United States. Last Saturday students from the Phoenix Collegiate Academy in Phoenix and Jackson Murphy (as part of his Eagle Scout Project, Troop 401) planted milkweed as part of the new Pollinator Garden at the Nina Mason Pullman Audubon Center in Phoenix.

Together they planted 12 Desert Milkweed, Asclepias subulata, and 12 Pine-Needle Milkweed, Asclepias linaria, as host plants. 12 Sweet Bush, Bebbia juncea were planted as a favorite butterfly nectar source. Kudos to the great enthusiasm and hard work to all help save the monarch migration!

Audubon is hoping to receive funding to create this lovely monarch play area for children in the Pollinator Garden. Imagine a large caterpillar to climb, a chrysalis swing or a huge monarch to explore. The monarch would point right across the river to the Rio Salado Habitat Restoration Area, home of overwintering monarchs! If you know anyone interested in helping make this a reality, please contact Cathy Wise at 602-468-6470.

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