I am fascinated with monarch butterflies. I can remember my sister and I giggling as we chased them through the fields as they darted this way and that. What a thrill it was to watch them fly high above all that enslaved them in their previous life cycle.
Through the years I have learned more and more about these tiny little wonders, and am still captivated with their beauty. For a very long time, I believed that they only had two life stages, the cocoon and the butterfly stages, but recently found out that they actually go through four stages in their life cycle. First, they start out as an egg after which they hatch into a larvae. The larvaes sole source of nourishment is the milkweed plant. Without it they cannot survive. Then they wrap up into a cocoon beginning the final stage known as metamorphosis where they are transformed into a beautiful butterfly.
Once a monarch butterfly is an adult (after the metamorphosis into a full grown butterfly) it can eat the nectar from any flower, not just the milkweed plant. Adult butterflies are poisonous, and although they won't harm humans, the chemicals built up from eating the milkweed plant when they were in the larvae stage gives them a poisonous defense against frogs, birds, mice and lizards.
It is true that the male and female butterflies are both brilliant in color. Male monarchs are distinguished from the females in that they have a black spot on each of the hind wings over a vein, a characteristic the female monarch butterfly does not share.
A final interesting fact is that monarch butterflies go through four generations each year. The first three generations hatch from their cocoon state (also known as the pupa or chrysalis state) and live for up to six weeks, but the fourth generation continues to live on for up to six or eight months. It is only the fourth generation of monarchs that migrate each year, and they are the only insect to migrate up to 2,500 miles to escape cold weather, hibernate, and then start a new first generation in the spring time.