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Milkweed Butterflies

( Originally Published 1917 )

FAMILY Lymnadidae

So far as the great majority of readers of this book are concerned, this family includes but one species the familiar Monarch or Milkweed butterfly. In the Southern states there is another the Queen and in Florida, still a third. The distinguishing characteristics are found in the dwarfed, useless front legs and the absence of scales upon the antennae.

The Monarch

Anosia plexippus

From June until October one may often see the stately Monarch flitting leisurely about over fields and meadows. It is one of the largest and most distinctive of these "frail children of the air" and may be easily recognized by its re-semblance to the picture opposite page 241. The veins of the wings are heavily marked in black, with large white dots upon the black bands along the margin. The color of the rest of the wings both above and below is reddish brown.

These butterflies come from the South in spring or early summer. They find milkweed plants and lay their eggs upon the leaves. These eggs soon hatch into small white and black caterpillars that feed upon the milkweed leaves and grow rapidly. One is likely to find them throughout most of the summer, wherever a milkweed shows partially eaten leaves. Bring in the half-grown caterpillars, place them in an open vivarium, and furnish fresh leaves every day or two. The caterpillars will soon mature and change to beautiful green chrysalids with golden markings. This chrysalis has been called "the glass house with the gold nails."

About two weeks later the glass house will burst open and the butterfly emerge. It will rest an hour or two while its wings and body harden and then it will want to fly away. It is not so anxious to do this, however, as most butterflies. If one is kept beneath a good-sized bell glass or in a glass-covered box, or even in a closed room, and fed with sweetened water it will soon become so tame that it will perch on one's finger and suck nectar from a flower held in one's hand. On this account it is a particularly desirable butterfly for the amateur photographer to cultivate, because he can easily get many interesting and beautiful pictures by posing the butterfly on different flowers.

The Change from Caterpillar to Butterfly

The change from the caterpillar to the butterfly is easier to watch in this species than in most others. The full grown caterpillar spins sometimes on the under surface of the milkweed leaf, sometimes elsewhere a little mat of silk in which it entangles the hooked claws of its hind feet. Then it lets go with its fore feet, and hangs downward with the front end of its body curled upward. In this position it remains for some hours perhaps a day —the body juices gravitating downward and causing a swollen appearance on the lower segments. Then the skin splits apart and is wriggled off by the contortions of the body. When it finally drops away, there is left a strange-looking creature, broader below than above. This is a transition stage that lasts but a very short time: soon the form is entirely changed so that the broadest part is above instead of below. The definite outline of the chrysalis is soon taken on, the outer tissues hardening into a distinct covering. The insect is now a beautiful green with wonderful golden spots upon its surface and a few black spots just below the black "cremaster" by which the chrysalis is connected with the web of silk upon the leaf.

In this quiet chrysalis the insect remains for nearly a fortnight. Then the structure of the forthcoming butterfly begins to show through the thin outer covering and you know that the period of the chrysalis is nearly ended. If you keep watch you will probably see the sudden bursting of the outer envelope and the quick grasping of its surface by the legs of the newly emerged butterfly. Its wings at first are short and crumpled, bearing little resemblance to those of the fully developed butterfly. But as it hangs there with one pair of legs holding to the empty chrysalis and the other to the leaf above, the wings rapidly lengthen, hanging limply downward, and the body juices penetrate the veins. A little later they expand in the other direction, the hind wings reaching full size before the front ones do. Finally both pairs of wings are fully expanded, and the butterfly is likely to walk to the top of the sup-port, where it rests for an hour or two while its tissues harden, before it attempts to fly.

In early autumn out of doors these butterflies start southward on their long journey. They often gather in great flocks and roost at night on wayside shrubs and trees. At this season it is easy to catch them in an insect net and bring them indoors for pets. They live for a long while and lend interest and beauty to living room or window garden. To the photographer they offer opportunities for attractive indoor pictures.

The Queen

Anosia berenice

The general form and color patterns of this fine butterfly show at once that it is related to the Monarch. Its general colors are chocolate brown and black, dotted and spotted with white. The eggs are laid upon milkweed and the life-history is much like that of the Monarch. One of the most interesting facts in connection with this species is that it seems to be mimicked by the Vicereine butterfly in the same way that the Monarch is mimicked by the Viceroy.

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