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Answered 2016-10-14 19:49:59

Short Answer:

The lifetime of an adult monarch butterfly was a bit of a surprise when scientists figured this out. Adults live 2-5 weeks OR 7-9 months. It depends on whether they have sex or not.

Monarchs have two different life cycles, so two different lifetimes, which will take a little longer to explain.

Explanation:

For thousands of years, humans in North America have watched Monarch Butterflies appear each summer, but it was only a few decades ago that scientists figured out where they came from. It turns out they come from 2000 miles (3000 kilometers) south in Mexico (most of them). Two thousand miles is a long distance to fly if you're a butterfly who lives 6 months, but it is impossible if you live 3 weeks. So they don't.

About 50 years ago, scientists discovered that almost all Monarch butterflies come from a sheltered high mountain pine forest west of Mexico City. (It was the lap of luxury for thousands of years, until someone started cutting tress recently.) The Monarch population in this little section of a few square miles has millions and maybe a billion butterflies. Or, at least it used to. Most of them are gone now.

In spring, when it is warm enough to leave, they head north, fly for a few weeks looking for poisonous plants. In northern Mexico or Texas or other nearby southern state, they stop at the newly emerging poisonous milkweed pant. They may, lay their eggs and in another week or so, they are dead. In order to complete the trip from Mexico across the US to Maine and Canada, they leave it to the children.

The life cycle for a new generation of Monarchs starts with eggs laid on poison milkweed in Texas or there abouts. Eggs hatch in a few days and this worm-like larva comes out. It eats the poison plant, gets fat, goes through five moltings and increases to 2000 times its birth mass in two weeks. These arge larva with stripes of green, yellow, black and white then make chrysalises where they spend another 2 weeks turning into a butterfly! Now, at age less than 5 weeks, they have about that same time to fly north, have sex, and lay eggs before they die too. To keep feeding on the young poisonous milkweed, they keep flying north and repeating this life cycle of 8 or so weeks, with the fourth or fifth generation making it as far as Maine or Canada.

After 6 or 7 months and 4 or 5 generations, it is August and its getting cold. Time to leave. Now, the weird thing happens. The last generation that hatches around August that has to head back south doesn't have time for all this sex and worm stuff, so they just head south and miraculously, they don't die. They just keep flying and feeding on nectar and using the winds to glide to save energy in flying. The final generation make it all the way back to Mexico, flying up to 2000 miles in under 3 months with little food and no sex. Then, they get six months to relax on trees in the high moist regions outside of Mexico City (if no one has cut the tree down). Finally, in spring, it is back to Texas, they have sex, lay eggs and die. One full year and maybe five generations, and no one knows how the great, great, great grandchildren of the previous year find their way back to the same trees.

So, for Monarchs, its 3-5 days as an egg, 9-15 days as a worm-like larva, 9-14 days in the chrysalis to transform into the butterfly. While they are heading north, they get 2-5 weeks as butterflies, but heading south, they get 7-9 months with a final couple of weeks to start the trip north and make the first set of spring eggs.

End notes:

The Monarch are more than 90% gone now and extinction could be coming in a few years. There are conservation organizations and they need support.

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Answered 2020-08-06 02:16:52

What’s the average lifespan of a monarch butterfly

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