Youngsters attending Hawkins Memorial Library’s Preschool Storytime got a rare treat last week, learning about the life cycle of a monarch butterfly and participating in the release of a newly-hatched monarch.
While the life cycle of the “king” of butterflies is often studied in school, the monarch’s survival depends upon four generations of butterflies each year.
In February and March, hibernating monarch butterflies emerge and find a mate, migrating north and east to find a location where their eggs will be laid.
In March and April, the eggs are laid on milkweed plants. The larvae, or baby caterpillars, take about four days to hatch. In two weeks, a fully grown caterpillar will attach itself to a stem or leaf and transform into a chrysalis to begin the process of metamorphosis. Within the chrysalis, the old body parts of the caterpillar are undergo a remarkable transformation over a ten day period. When the first generation monarch butterfly emerges, it will live only two to six weeks, dying after laying eggs for generation number two.
This process is replicated, as the second and third generations of monarchs, born in May/June and July/August, respectively, repeat the same life cycle.
The fourth generation of monarchs, born in September and October, are unique. Instead of dying shortly after emerging, this generation will live six to eight months and migrate to warmer climates like California and Mexico, until the whole process begins again.