Amazing monarch butterflies survived early snowfall

In the Garden with Mr. Bee

November 17, 2011|By Lou Boulmetishippodromehatter@aol.com

I was surprised to see several monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) fluttering around our "mums" (chrysanthemums) within two days of Jack Frost burying the plants beneath several inches of snow.

Living a mere two to eight weeks, monarch butterflies migrate from north to south and then back again — making the round trip between Canada and Mexico during the course of several generations.

They start the southward leg of their migration in August. Since they feed on plant nectar and not many plants bloom at this time of year, these colorful insects congregate around our mums.

A monarch's wings serve as a warning to predators to keep their distance. Known as "aposematism," their wing colors — bright orange with black veins and black highlights that are speckled with white polka dots along leading and trailing edges — proclaim "unpalatability" to potential predators, such as birds.

Monarchs aren't easily captured by predators, either. As they fly, their wing colors, together with their erratic fluttering, create an optical effect that makes them difficult to track.

Sweet dreams

Which reminds me, the Blackfeet of Montana believe that watching monarchs flutter is therapeutic and causes drowsiness. So Blackfeet women often solicit aid from monarchs to help children sleep and to deliver sweet dreams.

I haven't seen our monarchs for a few days. I hope they're still in the neighborhood, however, instead of with Jack Frost, so I can ask them to deliver mild winter weather, in at least in my dreams.

This week in the garden

The October snow did much more to our landscape than temporarily bury our mums. It also bent the upper limbs of several 10-foot trees and shrubs to the ground.

While the snow was still soft, I shook the bent branches from side to side until their limbs and leaves sprang free from the ground.

I was lucky, too. No branches broke. If I'd waited and more wet snow had fallen on the already weakened limbs, many of the bent branches might have broken and the specimens could have perished.

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