Monarch Butterflies

Monarch Butterflies

Monarchs often appear in my art work. I think they are the most beautiful butterflies you can ever see and I’ve seen many. The butterfly house in Dunedin, New Zealand has some amazing species of butterfly and vibrant colours, but nothing surpasses the humble Monarch for me. I think its helped along by being one of many New Zealand children brought up with a swan plant in the garden and able to view the life cycle of these wonderful creatures. Their brilliant green chrysalis with its hints of gold certainly helps hold that fascination for many also.

What do we know about the Monarch butterfly? Originally from North America it has been found in New Zealand since the 19th century. In Europe it is resident in the Canary Islands, the Azores, and in Madeira, and is found as an occasional migrant in Western Europe. Its wings feature an easily recognisable orange and black pattern, with a wingspan of 8.9–10.2 centimetres. Female Monarchs have darker veins on their wings, while the males have a large black spot which can be found in the centre of each hind wing, this is where its pheromones are released from. Males also have straight edged wings, whereas females sweep in a curved shape. Males are also slightly larger. The upper side of the wings for both sexes is tawny-orange, the veins and margins are black, and in the margins are two series of small white spots. The fore wings also have a few orange spots near the tip. The underside is similar but the tip of the fore wing and hind wing are yellow-brown instead of tawny-orange and the white spots are larger.

Like all insects the Monarch has six legs; however it uses only four of its legs as it carries its two front legs against its body.

Monarch eggs are creamy white. They later turn pale yellow. Elongated and sub-conical, with approximately 23 longitudinal ridges and many fine traverse lines they look like little upside down pots and are usually laid on the underside of leaves on the swan plants. A single egg measures about 1.2 millimetres high and 0.9 millimetres wide.

The Monarch caterpillar is quite a beauty in its own right; it is banded with yellow, black, and white stripes. The head is also striped with yellow and black. There are two pairs of black filaments, one pair on each end of the body so it often looks like it could be two headed. The caterpillar will reach a length of 5 cm.

The next stage of its life is the chrysalis which is the beautiful vivid green I mentioned earlier. It’s more of a pale lime green with a band of black and gold on the end of the abdomen. There are other gold spots on the thorax, the wing bases, and the eyes.

Many people like to attract monarchs by growing a butterfly garden with a specific milkweed species of plant called a Swan Plant. Large amounts of caterpillars on even a large swan plant will soon decimate the plant to the point where the plant has no foliage left and it dies. It’s recommended to prevent this by placing a small clear plastic bag over a small portion of the foliage at the end of one branch. Tie it in a way that no caterpillars can get to eat the foliage inside the bag. You punch very small holes in the bag so that the foliage can breath and moisture can escape the leaves will survive. By doing this it will save the plant and once the caterpillars have finished for the season the swan plant can regenerate for next summer. You simply remove the bag when caterpillars are finished for the season giving the plant a good chance of survival; I wish I’d known that many years ago as I could have saved many of my swan plants.  

Here are a few links to some of my monarch paintings

Not a Still Life with Red Apples

Not a Still Life with Pears

Tropical Flavours

Posted: Monday 7 June 2010