September 1, 2023
Monarchs are butterflies on a mission

Photo by Trista Imrich

By Mary Reid Barrow

A couple of weeks ago, a monarch butterfly darted into my garden, obviously on a mission.

She didn’t stop to nectar on the milkweed flowers, like the beauty in the photo above, taken by native plant lanscaper Trista Imrich earlier this year.

My monarch had only one mission in mind and that was to lay eggs on the milkweed leaves.  She got right down to business.

Photo by Mary Reid Barrow

She flitted around the plants, from one plant to the next, curving her handsome black and white ovipositor down to lay one egg at a time, as I realized when I looked for the eggs later.  She always laid them on the underside of the leaf, which must keep them safer from predators.  Look for the tiny egg at the end of the leaf’s center vein.

Photo by Mary Reid Barrow

You can see where other monarch caterpillars have dined on this milkweed, but in my mind, egg laying this time of year is a critical.

Her progeny and those of others in her generation are apt to grow up to be the monarchs of fall that will take off on the long migration to Mexico later in September.

They will be joined by other monarchs that most probably have flown from up north down the Eastern Shore where they cross over the Chesapeake Bay via the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel route.

My assumption is that man built the tunnel at the shortest distance between the two shores, something that migrating butterflies, and birds have known for eons.

I’ve heard tales of bridge-tunnel motorists seeing a line of monarchs, flying across, as they drove.  If the butterflies arrive here at dusk, they may spend the night hanging from the shelter of a tree branch.

I once saw a tree at the tip of the Eastern Shore that was covered in monarchs waiting for favorable winds to make the crossing.

Those who live in the northern half of the beach, particularly, may see monarchs later this month, on a new mission, flying in a purposeful, labored, way down the coast.  If one stops to nectar, it only eats and runs.

As I wish it safe travels, I always wonder what Nature was thinking to create these tiny monarchs of fall and then give them such a daunting journey.


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