Monarch Butterfly

Monarch Butterfly

by Rita Goldner

Since my whole improbable journey to becoming a published children’s book Monarch buttterflyauthor was launched by my love of orangutans, I like to blog about them and other endangered or threatened species. I certainly have no shortage of research material. At least I’m entertaining myself, and hopefully a few others. Today I tackle the fascinating Monarch butterfly, which has the longest migration cycle of any insect on earth. This inspiration hatched from a recent trip to Butterfly Wonderland with my grandkids. As in my post last month about horseshoe crabs, I’ve tried to find an analogy that relates to the life of an author.

Every spring, millions of monarchs awaken from their two- to three-month hibernation, either in southern California or in the Sierra Madre Mountains of Mexico. They breed and fly a short distance north to lay eggs. This first generation starts a year-long cycle of four generations. The ones from California stay west of the Rockies and head north. The ones from Mexico fly from Texas, in a 50-mile wide corridor of river valleys between Eagle Pass and Del Rio, Texas, and spread north toward the northern states and Canada. They only live a few weeks, so will finish barely a third of the journey. Before dying, they mate and lay eggs, which become caterpillars and more butterflies that continue the trek. This second generation also lives a few weeks, and lays eggs. Barring predators and other misfortunes, the third generation reaches the northern end of the migration and lays eggs. The fourth generation butterflies are the superstars. They’re destined to live six to eight months, and make a spectacular trip, under staggering odds, all the way back to the starting point, 2,000 to 3,000 miles south.

This drama has been occurring for thousands of years. The little travelers try to avoid large lakes and mountains, catch winds and thermal waves, and hide in trees when it rains. The intriguing mystery remains – how do these Monarchs find a destination they’ve never seen? Since the butterfly relay race takes three to four generations to complete, none of these beautiful insects completes the whole migration. The astounding part is that the ones completing the anchor leg of the journey flock to the same tree where their grandparents or great-grandparents rested the previous spring.

While flying, the butterflies gather two pieces of information: the sun’s position, perceived by their eyes, and the time of day, perceived by a biological “clock” in their antennae. With this data, they can navigate accurately to very specific locations. The northern end of the trip is spread out across the northern U.S. and Canada, but the southern end is very narrow and specific. The superstar butterflies west of the Rockies travel to the southern coast of California, and those east of the Rockies head to Mexico, to the Sierra Madre Mountains in the state of Michoacán.

My metaphor for authors is the journey. For these little creatures, the journey is their goal, not the destination, since only a small percentage of them reach the final stop. For authors, if fame and fortune is the goal, we know that only a small percentage of us will achieve it. If the goal is enriching the lives of our readers and ourselves, then we have already achieved it.

Rita Goldner
is the author and illustrator of the children’s picture book, Orangutan: A Rita Goldner2Day in the Rainforest Canopy. Rita has also written and illustrated two eBooks, Jackson’s History Adventure and Jackson’s Aviation Adventure, in the Jackson’s Adventure series. For orangutan facts and images and to purchase the book (also available as an ebook), visit Or by the Kindle version here. Rita’s newest book, Making Marks on the World: A Storybook for Left- and Right-Handed Coloring, is available for purchase here. To view additional illustrations and other books in progress, visit Rita’s website. Contact Rita here. Follow Rita on Facebook.

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2 Responses to Monarch Butterfly

  1. as always, a beautiful picture. you have such a neat way of painting, Rita! btw, people here in Indiana where I currently live try very hard to “feed” and attract the monarchs, planting the specific plant that will attract them. of course, the best is milkweed, but no way would I plant that. I do, however, love those butterfly bushes and they always work well. I have noted one or two butterflies and also mounted a “butterfly house.” we’ll see how well it works.


  2. Rita, thank you for a staggering illustration of the genius of Nature. I will be pondering this for a long time.


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