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This Week’s Creature Feature ... All Hail the Monarchs

Catch one last glimpse of these orange beauties before they head south for the winter

Each year as the leaves turn orange in Maryland, orange-tinted butterflies turn south. Monarch butterflies, easily recognizable in bold orange and yellow hues, visit Maryland each spring and summer to enjoy nectar and liquids from fruit.
    While the monarchs might be fun to spot in your garden, make sure to keep pets and children from trying to sample the insects. As larvae, the monarchs eat a strict diet of only milkweed, which helps them develop cardenolides — a poison that works like digitalis — as adults. How much the larvae ate is directly proportionate to how poisonous the adult becomes.
    With a poisonous past and colorful wings, the insects catch attention wherever they go, and that’s far and wide. Monarchs travel as far north as Canada, producing four to five generations each year before winter’s chill and shortening days urge their flight to mountain ranges of southern California and Mexico, where there are two monarch reserves.
    There the migrators reach full maturity in the longer days and continue breeding.
    They are fertile but short-lived — only two to six weeks after leaving the chrysalis. Their migration is the more mysterious because the south-flying butterflies are several generations removed from the ancestors that made the spring flight north.
    To see the migrating generation before it takes flight, visit Kings Landing Park in Huntingtown on October 4 for a kid-friendly butterfly walk (full details in 8 Days a Week).
    Follow the monarch migration with the Journey North’s Monarch Butterfly Migration Tracking Project. Visit the website and click on the interactive map to learn when the monarchs leave the area for good — likely early October — and to post your sightings.
    Track the butterflies in real time at www.learner.org/jnorth/monarch/.