The word “monarch” means king or ruler, and probably no other accepted common name could better describe this regal insect of bright orange and black, with white spots.

Monarch butterflies glide about the countryside and city landscape in a most dignified way. Now it’s time to welcome them back. Each year they spend winter in Mexico, where they congregate in selected trees on mountainsides in an area west of Mexico City. They leave Minnesota from late August into October, and the first ones arrive in the wintering site about Nov. 1, a most amazing flight for an insect. In late February, as spring approaches, the monarchs begin migrating north after the development of milkweeds, on which they lay their eggs. However, the butterflies that leave Mexico are not the same ones that will fly to the northern limits of milkweeds in Canada. I have seen some very faded and frayed individuals drawing nectar on lilac blossoms in the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, which leads me to think that those few individuals made it to the Mexican site and came back this far north in the spring.

Spring migrating monarchs enter Texas from Mexico during March and April. Females lay their eggs on milkweeds and their progeny appear in April or May. So by mid- to late-May, when common milkweeds are up six inches, a scant few of the fall migrants and many of their offspring that hatched in Texas find their way into Minnesota from the south.

Jim Gilbert’s Nature Notes are heard on WCCO Radio at 7:15 a.m. Sundays. His observations have been part of the Minnesota Weatherguide Environment Calendars since 1977, and he is the author of five books on nature in Minnesota. He has taught and worked as a naturalist for 50 years.