Courage of the Monarch

DN_0039_IMG_8933Photo credit: Nathan Grumbine Photography

“Migration is an act of courage.”

I read these words tonight on a friend’s Facebook “timeline”.

When my son found this monarch butterfly last summer, it was dying. We were gathered with my husband’s side of the family at a park in south central Pennsylvania. My then five-year-old had been on a quest for monarch caterpillars all spring, and finally, in early August, this adult butterfly flitted across our path.

Something I didn’t know then was that the butterfly in this photo did not come from Mexico. However, its grandparents did.

According to the monarch calendar, adult butterflies we see in North America during late summer are the grandchildren of the first generation of monarchs that head north from Mexico in early spring.

The cycle from egg to adult takes about thirty days. The monarch may take five generations to migrate from Mexico to Canada and back again. As a group, these generations complete a two-way journey as long as 3,000 miles.

As spring begins, over-wintering monarchs from Mexico travel north. They travel between fifty and one hundred miles a day. It takes them up to two months. They travel in search of milkweed where they will lay their eggs. Their children will hatch in early summer, their grandchildren in late summer, their great-grandchildren in early fall.

After reaching adulthood, the last generation in the cycle lives not mere weeks, but months. This is the generation that will migrate south to overwinter in Mexico and southern California before returning north to start a new year.

We can learn a lot from this exhausted monarch. Sometimes it takes generations to complete the journey. The weariness of the migrant, driven by the need to create and preserve a viable existence for generations to come, is a crown of courage, worthy of the royal name.

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