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Monarch Butterflies Ready To Migrate Through Northeast Indiana

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JAMES LAURIE/SHUTTERSTOCK
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As the summer winds down, you might notice orange butterflies fluttering across the region. Monarch caterpillars have matured into their adult stage, and they’re getting ready to migrate south for the winter.

Little River Wetlands Project Director of Preserves and Programs Betsy Yankowiak is holding a plastic jar with a miniature habitat and five monarch caterpillars inside.

The life cycle of a monarch caterpillar is an interesting one, notably in how significantly they grow in a short period of time.

“When it comes out, it’s about the size of your eyelash,” she says. “And then within two weeks, it will grow to be the size of your first finger. So if you were an eight-pound baby and you grew that fast, in two weeks you’d be the size of a 40-foot school bus.”

Yankowiak’s caterpillars are almost ready for adulthood, as a monarch butterfly.

“When the last molt happens, its skin kind of falls off, and inside is a beautiful, green crystalis,” she says. “It’ll sit in the crystalis for eight to 12 days, maybe a little longer depending on the temperature. And then out comes an adult monarch butterfly.”

Mid-September is peak monarch butterfly season in Northeast Indiana, and they’ll be taking advantage of the nectar remaining in gardens and parks.

Soon, these butterflies are headed south. Some monarchs can travel up to 2,000 miles across several North American countries for their migration. And they’ll all most likely end up in the same place.

“They go to just a few overwintering spots in the Mexican mountains, and they overwinter for about nine months. And somehow, they find the same mountains that their great-, great-, great-, great-generations prior to them in that single year.”

And I still need a map to get around Fort Wayne.

The lifespan of a standard monarch is about four-to-six weeks. While tourists flock to Mexico or California to see them over winter, the monarchs are preparing for spring.

“The boys and girls mate, and then the females start to fly north, and they start when the milkweed starting to emerge from the ground,” she says. “Once they see milkweed, they lay eggs.”

Spring monarchs will reappear in Northeast Indiana around June to lay their eggs underneath milkweed leaves to protect from predators, and the cycle repeats itself over the next year.

Monarch caterpillars evolving into these majestic seasonal insects seems like one of the many inexplicable wonders of the natural world. Yankowiak confirms this.

“Yeah, it makes perfect sense,” she says, sarcastically. “It’s really hard to understand why something would transform from something that would survive out here just fine, go into hiding for two weeks and emerge as a completely different… being. Insects are incredible.”

Little River Wetlands Project will be hosting the Monarch Festival this Sunday from noon to four at Eagle Marsh. Admission is free and open to the public.