Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Amazing Monarch

Despite the late date, and cool temperatures just cresting north of 60 degrees, I saw several monarchs passing through Columbus today. This male - males have the dark glands on a vein of the lower wing - was busily fueling on stilll vibrant shale-barren aster, Symphyotrichum oblongifolium.

This insect still has nearly 2,000 miles to go in order to reach its Mexican wintering grounds. The migration of the monarch never fails to stupefy me. The butterfly in this photo has plunked down in a tiny green oasis in one of Columbus's very urban 'hoods. After refueling, it will launch on an unerring southwestern trajectory. This path will take it right through or at least by downtown Columbus and its towering buildings and on through at least four or five other states before it makes the Mexican border crossing.

If all goes well, our monarch will join millions of others in high elevation fir forests near the village of Angangueo, about a four hour drive west of Mexico City. Once there, the butterflies will ride out the winter, draping fir trees in a living shimmering cloak of burnt orange and black. Seeing "our" monarch butterflies festooning Mexican fir trees must be one of the world's great spectacles of natural history, and a phenomenon I hope to witness personally some day.

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