Although many of us are still experiencing the summer heat, fall is just around the corner and many animals are already getting ready for the impending winter that will follow closely behind. Many of these animals are beginning to fatten themselves up in preparation for hibernation, while others are gearing up for a long migration. When thinking of migration our minds usually go right to birds, but there are those in the insect world who are also gearing up for their journey ahead. One insect in particular, the Monarch Butterfly will travel up to 2,500 miles to escape the frigid winter temperatures. Monarchs are among several species of butterflies which just can’t stand the cold temperatures of winter, and will be in peak migration through Nebraska around September 16th, so keep your eyes open and your flower gardens watered to help them as they continue on their long migration southward.
Now to the untrained eye the butterfly above looks like a Monarch…But in fact this is a completely different species known as the Viceroy which you can also see fluttering around this time of year. Now take a closer look at the picture above and the picture of the Monarch below and see if you can spot some subtle differences.
Other than just their features the Monarch and Viceroy differ in how they spend their winters. Where the Monarch is gearing up for migration, the Viceroy is still flying around flower gardens, sucking up nectar and laying its eggs. In fact, the larvae from these tiny eggs will actually overwinter right here in Nebraska! Viceroy caterpillars will find a willow tree, pick out a leaf, eat all but a little bit of it, then create a sleeping bag of silk in which it will remain until temperatures begin to warm up again in the spring.
As fall continues, be on the lookout for these “hibernacula”, formed by numerous insects to last out the winter. Some examples are below…