Tag: Monarch butterflies

Butterflies 101

Butterflies 101

When is a Monarch only a Viceroy, or even less regal – a mere Painted Lady? Your faithful blogger humbly confesses to having confused the various species of Lepidoptera in recent posts, and misidentified images of Viceroys and Painted Ladies as actual Monarchs.

The first image here is that of a Painted Lady filling up on nectar (or “nectaring’ as the experts call it) in a Chester garden. To the untrained eye, this beautiful insect looks just like the popular image of a Monarch  butterfly. In a fascinating presentation entitled “Journey and Transformations”, Roberta MacDonald, a retired school teacher who has made a life-long study of  Monarchs, clarified the differences for members of Chester Garden Club.

monarch butterfly close-up
Painted Lady

Monarchs have a  strong connection with Nova Scotia during the summer months when they feed on nectar-producing plants in our province before setting off on their 4000 Km trip south to Mexico.  The migration may take as long as 2 months, between September and November.

Monarch butterfly [photo from Wickipedia]
The distinguishing marks that identify a Monarch include its larger size, the white polka-dot border around the edges of the wings, and the simple strong black veins on the orange wings (without the extra black lines or spots seen on the Painted Lady). The Monarch males do, however, have a dark spot (an  androconium, that emits pheromones) in the centre of the hind wing.

Left, a male Monarch butterfly; and on the right a female. This image is from Wickipedia.

Monarchs are termed a “species at risk”, partly because of the arduous journey they undertake and also because of changes in their habitat.  Deforestation in Mexico has depleted some of their roosting areas and their main food sources are scarcer, with many stands of milkweed and other special plants along their flight route having been destroyed by pesticides or replaced by housing developments and strip malls.

Roberta described the migration to and from Mexico as a journey that stretches over a year and involves several generations taking part at different stages of the trip.  After  a winter spent roosting in trees in Mexico, the Monarchs begin to start flying north in February, but no individual butterfly completes the round trip.  En route north, the females mate and look for milkweed on which to lay their eggs; then they die. Those eggs hatch into larvae which eat voraciously and go through the chrysalis stage before becoming full-fledged butterflies. They in turn live only about two months before they repeat the process, so it only a fourth or fifth generation that actually reaches Nova Scotia.  Nectaring plants in our area include not only three types of milkweed (asclepias), but also  goldenrod, asters, purple coneflower, bee balm, and lilacs.

Jocelyn greets Roberta MacDonald as Cynthia sets up the computer/projector before the presentation.

Roberta’s  own interest in these lovely creatures was whetted when she was teaching science to young children in her classroom. They in turn became entranced as they watched the transformation from egg to larva to chrysalis to adult butterfly, and their parents were caught up in the general enthusiasm and some have since participated in an international banding program as part of a study to learn more about these tiny creatures.

The northern Monarchs are now on their way south and we wish them a pleasant journey. For additional information on Monarchs,  why not check out these websites:   www.monarchwatch.org   www.naturecanada.ca   and    www.learner.org/north/

And to close this post, the photo below shows that there really were a few real Monarchs among all those Painted Ladies that we posted in earlier blogs.  Still, it’s a lesson learned – as the saying goes: a little knowledge is a dangerous thing!  Next time, we’ll be checking more closely.

A Monarch butterfly supping on a Buddleia in a Chester garden.
Images from a Summer Garden

Images from a Summer Garden

Having enjoyed one of the sunniest
and warmest summers on record in our
area, I felt it time to look back over
some of the pleasures to be found in and around our Chester gardens.


Perennial sweet peas are a delightful surprise every spring when they appear at the foot of a wrought-iron fence and soon send out massive tendrils and blooms that create a privacy hedge.  The yellow flowers above belong to a tall artichoke plant (a volunteer that sprang up under a cluster of lilacs). Seasoned gardeners may also spy a young goldenrod peeking out from the background.

Wisteria drapes gracefully over a pergola, providing a shady nook on a hot day.

A pale pink rose whose I.D.  tag was lost almost as soon as it was planted in June (sigh…) has produced innumerable blossoms now that it is encased in a net cage designed to foil the deer who had dined on the bush a few nights after I had planted it.  (Perhaps one of the deer also ingested the tag!) 

Of course, deer weren’t the only wildlife to appear in our gardens.  We’re home to raccoons, pheasants and foxes, as well as birds and bees. The bee below is finding nectar and pollen in a rose blossom  – the fragrant Blanc double de Coubert. 

In early summer, gardeners and tennis players alike were supervised daily by a pair of hummingbirds who liked to perch high on a weathervane where they could survey the action in all directions.  Although they drank from strategically placed feeders, they also had access to honeysuckle vines and many other natural sources.

The standard bird feeder was a busy meeting place for chickadees, goldfinches, song-sparrows and purple finches.  Larger birds,  like mourning doves, pheasants and crows, hung around the base of the stand picking up fallen seeds.   

A future project includes learning to shoot with a video camera so that I can capture scenes like the dance of the Monarch butterflies that were busy quenching their thirst on a Buddleia in full bloom.

As perennials die back, the old reliables –  annuals, such as nasturtiums and petunias  – continue to flaunt their bright colours.  But, as this newly harvested crop of peaches attests, summer is slowly but surely drawing to a close. 

newly harvested ripe peaches

summer sunset
On a positive note, the approach of autumn means the start-up of classes, clubs and workshops designed to energize us all during the cooler months ahead.  By coincidence, having recently enjoyed the presence of a large group of  beautiful “Monarchs” in our garden, we have just been advised that the first fall meeting of the Chester Garden Club will feature Roberta MacDonald,  who will give an illustrated presentation on  Monarch butterflies.  The  meeting is scheduled for September 17, 6:30 for 7:00 PM at St. Stephen’s Parish Community Centre.