Beauty and Life of the Monarch Butterfly Term Paper

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Beauty and Life of the Monarch Butterfly

This is a paper about the Monarch Butterfly. What animal kingdom is it from? Listed is the life cycle of the butterfly. What are the adaptations of the Monarch Butterfly?


Many people think butterflies live in a carefree environment, but they are wrong. They seem so peaceful visiting flowers, but they are bound by social conventions and instincts of their own. Although their lives appear to be so simple, yet their lives are quite demanding (Farrand 1990). The beauty of the Monarch is found delighting in most butterfly lovers. The life of a Monarch Butterfly is quite complicated as it meets the instincts that it is bound with. A butterfly's life depends on finding enough food, where to lay its eggs safely, the intricate demands of courtships, and on finding the right spot of transformation from a caterpillar to a butterfly, the ability to fend off predators, migration, and just one mistake can end the life of a butterfly.

Butterflies are Invertebrates

Butterflies are considered invertebrates because they lack a backbone and may be soft or hard bodied with signs of segmentation (Feltwell 1986). Butterflies are in the Insecta class that is found in the division of the phylum Arthropoda. Feltwell states that all arthropods have six basic things in common:

They are wrapped in a "tough exoskelton made of chitin" (Feltwell 1986).

They are segmented

They have legs or appendages arising from separate segments

They have a haemocoele that is located between the exoskeleton and the internal organs.

They have a dorsal contractile heart and a ventral nervous system (1986).

The butterfly comes from the Lepidoptera, which is a Greek word meaning that the wings are covered in scales. Butterflies have compound eyes on either side of the head and made up of thousands of lensed-eyes called "ommatidia." They are not able to see fine detail, but are able to detach if they have a predator.

The Monarch -- Danaus Plexippus

The monarch is one of many varieties of butterflies. The Monarch Butterfly can be considered the king of the insect world. Even though they may be little they do phenomenal things. "Danaus plexippus is the scientific name for the Monarch Butterfly" Inspecta World 2002). Butterflies come from one of the larges orders of insect (O'Toole 1986). They have overlapping scales on the wings. When a butterfly is handled the dust that rubs off consists of these scales. The legs seem to have hair on them but actually they are scales, too. The Monarchs can be described as "large orange-brown wings with white spots, caterpillars with two pairs of black horns at either end of the body. Caterpillars and adults store poisons from the food plant. There are two species in Europe, the Monarch (Danaus plexippus) and the Plain Tiger (Danauc chrysippus)" (Feltwell 1986). However, not all Monarchs are poisonous, because not all milkweed plants produce cardiac glycosides (Inspecta World 2002).

Butterflies have knobs on the tips of their antennae (Encarta 2002). There are approximately 18,500 types of butterflies. The butterfly's mouth can be found between its two eyes. The proboscis or its tongue is usually curled below its face, but it can uncoil it and insert it into flowers and other food sources.

The thorax, or the middle part of the body, is the thickest part of the butterfly. This contains the powerful flight muscles and bears the legs and wings (Encarta 2002). Each of the butterfly's feet bears a pair of claws for clinging to flowers or other perches. The wings are located on the side of its body and are very thin. The scales on the wings give the butterfly its color. The abdomen is tube-like in shape and consists of ten segments. The heart, respiratory, digestive systems, and the reproductive organs are found in the abdomen. The heart runs the length of the abdomen. Oxygen comes through the abdomen in six different holes called spiracles. These are connected to the network of tubules or tracheae. In females the abdomen is larger because the reproductive systems are there (Encarta 2002).

Why does the Monarch Butterfly have the bright colors and what do they mean? The various color of the species able other butterflies and butterfly watchers to be able to recognize what type of butterfly it is. The Monarch bold patterns and colors mean that the caterpillar has eaten from the poisonous milkweed and now they are poisonous. (Farrand 1990).

The Life Cycle of a Monarch

The butterflies lay their eggs on the underside of separate leaves of the milkweed plant. It takes about two weeks for the eggs to turn into baby caterpillars. Approximately two weeks after the eggs are laid the eggs begin to turn colors from a yellow to a light gray. Then the caterpillar begins to sneak its head out of the eggshell.

The newborn caterpillar is only about 2 millimeters long, but loves to eat. The first thing the caterpillar does is to eat the eggshell. Next the caterpillar eats the milkweed. The caterpillar can be considered a binge eater because he eats and eats, day and night, only stopping to rest a little between its meals.

The caterpillar has "spiracles" or several ring-like openings. These provide respiration for the monarch. The butterfly has six legs and five large prolegs. The prolegs are used to grip the leaves and places where it moves. Both ends of the body had a pair of fleshly filaments, but no one knows what they are used for. The caterpillar is 2,700 times bigger than when it was born, but it is only two inches long.

The caterpillar becomes restless and begins looking for a safe place to do transform. When the caterpillar picks where he wants to do the transformation, "it uses a special gland in its mouth to weave a small silk button underneath a twig or leaf. It attaches its tail end to the lump" (Inspecta 2002). Next it forms a "j" as it hangs upside down. Slowly it begins moving until it causes the skin to split open. The caterpillar may wriggle over five hours to shed the skin. Once this old skin is gone it looks like a green water droplet. This is called the pupal stage.

Now its begins to change colors and shape. The outer layer hardens into an emerald case that has golden drops on it. This hardens into an emerald case that is called "chrysalis" (Inspecta 2). Approximately two weeks later you will be able to see a butterfly through the chrysalis. When the butterfly is born the wings will be wrinkled and wet. The abdomen is large. The baby cleans to the casing of the chrysalis while fluid is pumped into the wings. This expands them. Once the wings are dry and the abdomen reduced the monarch is able to fly away. The difference between a male Monarch and a female monarch is the scent glands. The male's glands are marked with a spot of dark scales in the hind wings. The females have broader black vein lines. The Monarch gets its energy from visiting flowers as they travel. This way they will be ready for their migration in the fall.

The life of the butterfly is not as simple as some people may think. "A butterfly's survival and that of its offspring depend on finding enough food; on the right choice of a time and place to lay eggs; on correctly performing the intricate rituals of courtship; on picking the best time and place to lay eggs; on finding a safe spot to spend the quiet time during the transformation from larva to adult; on the right behavior for avoiding predators, bad weather, and the hazards of the nighttime; and for some, on defending a migration at the right time and traveling to the right place. The price of a wrong choice is a high one" (Farrand 1990). The life of a butterfly is definitely not as simple as one might think.

Lincoln Brower and the Monarch Butterfly

In January 1976, Lincoln Brower, an entomologist was studying the monarch butterfly, and was hiking in the Sierra Chincua that is west of Mexico City. He heard that the butterflies live in part of the year in Canada and part of the year in Mexico. He wanted to know if this was true. He and his colleagues climbed to 9,000 feet in the Rockies. Then suddenly the greens of the firs turning into a cataract of orange, Brower realized he was looking at a wall of butterflies (Rankin 1997).

Brad Darrach and the Monarch Butterfly

Brad Darrach says, "They are kings of the summer. For six months every year, like flying flowers, their black-and-orange wings bedeck North America from Texas to Canada" (1993). As suddenly as the butterflies appeared is their disappearance. These monarchs stream southward toward their wintering grounds in Mexico. Scientists from Canada to Mexico watch their coming and going. Almost every…

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