To reproduce, the male and female of this species must mate. Considering that the average monarch butterfly lives only two to six weeks, how they could have evolved into a male and female is hard enough to explain, but that is only the beginning of this remarkable circle of life.
The egg is the first stage of metamorphosis. The female monarch will lay 300 to 700 fertilized eggs in her brief lifetime. The female attaches each egg to the bottom of a milkweed leaf with quick-drying glue she secretes along with each egg.
In three to five days, the second stage of life, a tiny wormlike larva, emerges. The larva’s first meal is its own eggshell. After that, it will eat the milkweed leaves nonstop for about two weeks. During this voracious eating, the larva will molt, or shed its skin, four to five times. After each molt, it eats its old skin. It will increase its weight 3,000 times, until the caterpillar is about 2 inches long.
As it turns out, eating the milkweed plant is a valuable service because milkweed is a noxious plant that can cause problems to farmers’ fields. As the caterpillars eat, they store the milkweed toxins in their bodies yet are not affected by them at all. (The importance of these toxins will not be fully appreciated until the next stage of life, when the monarch will become a poisonous butterfly. An animal that eats a monarch will get very sick and vomit but generally will not die. Predators quickly learn that this brightly colored butterfly will make them sick, and they avoid eating other monarchs.)
At the end of about 15 days, the caterpillar leaves the milkweed plant and attaches itself to a tree branch or twig with small hooks in its tail end. It then spins silk from its spinneret to make the attachment secure. It hangs its head down and molts for the last time. The newly exposed skin dries and hardens and takes the form of a jade green pupa, or chrysalis, the third stage of metamorphosis. During the next 10 to 15 days, the entire body is reorganized and transformed. It will emerge an entirely new creature, fully suited for a completely different lifestyle.
The adult monarch butterfly will emerge fully grown, but damp. It immediately pumps liquid into the veins in its wings to inflate them from the tight folds that were necessary to fit inside the pupa stage. The wings will dry and stiffen in three to four hours, providing the rigid strength needed for the monarch to fly away for the first time (never having seen or experienced flight before).
The final adult-stage monarch eats liquids rather than leaves. It has been fully equipped with a long, flexible tube-like “tongue” called a proboscis. This uncoils to sip food, and coils up when not in use. Monarchs drink nectar from many flowers, including milkweed, clover, thistle, lilac and goldenrod.
This new generation of adult monarchs has somehow been transformed into males and females fully equipped to reproduce, something that was not done at all during the earlier caterpillar stage. They soon mate and continue the cycle of metamorphosis all over again.
The monarch butterfly migrates for the winter. In North America, monarchs west of the Rocky Mountains migrate to some 80 locations along the Southern California coast. Pismo Beach is one of the largest sites. As a result, February 5 is Monarch Butterfly Day in California. Monarchs living east of the Rockies migrate to the mountains in south-central Mexico. Some monarchs travel well over 2,500 miles from southern Canada! Others have even been known to make transatlantic crossings when wind conditions are right.
The life span of the adult monarch varies, depending on the season in which it emerged from the pupa stage. Adults that emerge in early summer live for only two to five weeks. Those that emerge in the summer may live six to eight weeks; they will remain in one area their entire lives. Those that emerge in late summer, however, will live six to nine months, long enough to migrate to various southern locations where they basically hibernate for the winter. They live off their own body fats and get their moisture from the morning dew. Scientists call this migratory generation of monarchs the “Methuselah generation.” This would be like a human being living 500 years. This is a fact science cannot explain.
These migrating butterflies are the fourth or fifth generation born during the summer. This generation generally does not reproduce until after they begin the long migration back home beginning in February and March. For example, those butterflies in Mexico may travel as far north as Texas or Oklahoma during the spring migration before they find the early milkweed growth needed to lay their eggs. It is the second or third generations that will eventually return to their northern locations in the United States or Canada.
Another thing that stymies scientists is how the butterflies migrate to the same place year after year having never been there before. They theorize that the butterfly follows the sun or has an internal clock, or that perhaps it has something to do with the Earth’s magnetic field. They never seem to make a connection to a Creator God. God says that He created and sustains all life.
Yes, the monarch is a marvelous example of God’s creation, yet it is only one of more than 5,000 species of butterflies scientists have classified as the family Nymphalidae, a class reserved only for butterflies with dwarfed front legs. Just look around and reflect on the vast variety of God’s marvelous miracles of life all around us. The more we study creation, the more it reveals our Creator and His plan for placing us here.
Romans 1:20 explains that “the invisible things of [God] from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that [people] are without excuse.”
Think of the intricately detailed design and purpose God put into the creation of just this one seemingly insignificant creature. How much more thought has God put into the design and purpose of man? Man has a far greater transformation ahead of him than that experienced by the monarch. You have a much greater future ahead of you than you could possibly imagine. You may be a part of the generation of man that will also one day be given an extended life in order to make a great migration into the universe. Request The Incredible Human Potential to learn more about God’s great plan for you.