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January 7, 2009 / Bo Mackison

Monarch Butterfly, Sitting Pretty

Desert Botanical Garden

Desert Botanical Garden

When we were traveling in the Southwest last fall, we visited the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix. The Maricopa Monarca Butterfly Exhibit was open and we spent some time wandering in the Marshall Butterfly Pavilion, getting a close-up view of hundreds of Monarchs. This Monarch is sitting on a Lantana flowering plant.

I never gave much thought to the migration of Monarchs until I stumbled upon the fact that only one in four generations of Monarchs actually migrate. Three out of every four generations of Monarchs live only 10 weeks or so. The fourth generation lives up to 8 months. Here’s the story:

A typical Monarch runs through its life cycle in about 10 weeks. Four days inside the egg, two weeks as a caterpillar (larvae) while it lives on and munches through its host milkweed plant, then ten days inside its chrysalis. Finally the Monarch bursts forth in all its glory, and lives as an adult butterfly for maybe 2 to 6 weeks. At least this is the life style of 3 out of 4 generations of Monarchs. The wintering or migrating generation (the fourth generation) flies south and lives through the winter. The monthly time-line is a bit like this:

February/March – the Monarchs that hibernated in the southern regions of California and in Mexico come out of hibernation, find a mate, and return to the North where they lay their eggs. When they die, they have lived a long life for a Monarch – perhaps 4-5 months as adults while they hibernated during the winter.

March/April – The first generation of this year’s Monarchs are born and proceed with business as usual (egg, caterpillar, chrysalis, adult)

May/June – The second generation does as the first generation did.

July/August – The third generation does as the second and third generations did.

September/October – This is the lucky generation if, as a butterfly, you wish to be a traveler and live a long (relatively) life. The fourth generation goes through the familiar cycle, but the adults do not die. They migrate to the South, hibernate in the warm climes of Southern California or Mexico, and then they lay their eggs the following February/March.

And then the process repeats itself, over and over.

Nature is very curious and very cool.


  1. jeju / Jan 7 2009 7:07 am

    very nice 😀

  2. suehenryphotography / Jan 7 2009 7:49 am

    I want to be a fourth generation butterfly…travel and live longer!

    Your posts are always so interesting and informative.

  3. Gandalf / Jan 7 2009 7:50 am

    Very interesting post. I never knew about the 4 generations of migration.

  4. Laurie / Jan 7 2009 11:24 am

    Monarchs are fascinating and beautiful. Lovely composition.

  5. Heather / Jan 7 2009 11:51 am

    I love photographing butterflies, although we don’t have many monarchs around where I live and I have never seen one in the wild. And fascinating information too.

  6. Marcie / Jan 7 2009 3:33 pm

    So interesting. Who’d of ever thought that the life cycles were like this? Stunning image. Nice to see a spot of summer!!!

  7. montucky / Jan 7 2009 3:46 pm

    Gorgeous photo and interesting facts! I have fond memories of many visits to the Desert Botanical Garden!

  8. Anna Surface / Jan 7 2009 5:23 pm

    Gorgeous capture of the Monarch butterfly! Ah Nature is a teacher, and perhaps the life cycles of the Monarch butterflies teach something about Life. Enjoyed the post, Bo. 🙂

  9. colblue / Jan 7 2009 9:34 pm

    Beautiful shot and a very informative post.

    Col 🙂

  10. Richard Lovison / Jan 8 2009 9:42 am

    Beautiful capture Bo. Makes me wish for spring.

  11. Grace / Jan 8 2009 12:31 pm

    WOW! I had no idea! 4th generation, huh? You know me and butterflies….(or maybe not. They are so significant to me, I have a large one tattooed on my lower back! LOL)

    I’ve seen a field in Washington, near Seattle. It was September and the Monarchs filled the air – literally – by the 1000s. Clouds and Clouds of them 🙂 It was spectacular!

    Your photography is awesome, Bo. I’m so glad to have stopped by today!

  12. Robin / Jan 11 2009 6:11 pm

    This photography makes me yearn for warmer climes. 🙂

    Thank you for the lesson on monarchs. I’ve admired them, photographed them, but never took the time to learn much about them (shame on me!).

  13. amuirin / Jan 12 2009 4:10 pm

    I keep coming back to this one, the beautiful, bright, warm colors.

    It gives my eyes a rest from the unrelenting gray of january. You really did make a stunning capture here.

  14. ankush / Jan 13 2009 2:49 pm

    wow lovely, so sharp!

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