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Outdoors: Monarch migration

Chopin did not name his Étude Op. 25, No. 9 in G-flat major  “the butterfly étude.”  But it is not hard to figure how the piece got this name. The hands of a pianist have to flutter just to play all of  the notes.

Monarchs butterflies  that emerge in late summer  are somehow programmed not to mate until next spring. The males are not looking for females; and the females are not fluttering around  milkweed looking for places on which to lay their eggs.

Instead, they are all looking for nectar-rich flowers on which to feed in preparation for their journey from the Great Lakes region to a remote mountain forest in central Mexico.

Monarch butterflies  are able to migrate with very little effort.  Sometimes they just flutter into a weather pattern and are carried on the wind.

They  also can rise on thermal updrafts – rising warm air - and then glide for miles without even flapping their wings.  

It used to be that the monarchs weighed five times more when they arrived in Mexico than they did when they left their breeding areas.  However, these days, due to intensive agricultural practices in the Midwest, they are lucky if they have enough stored fats to survive the winter. 

You like monarchs? Do them a favor. See if you can wait a few weeks before mowing the wildflowers like goldenrod and asters. Or plant fall-blooming flowers.

While butterflies travel, if they can't find flowers, the lipids stored in their bodies will keep them alive through the winter. In fact, they use so little food during their semi-hibernation that, hopefully, they  have energy reserves enough to flutter in their mating dances and to begin the journey  north in the spring.