Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Heron Dance

My Heron Dance Newsletter arrived this morning. The mornings when I open it and find Rod's amazing water colours, I always wish I had told you all about this site and so I am including the following excerpt. If you enjoy, you may wish to subscribe for free at the following address:

Dear Heron Dancers,

Monarchs are just starting to flutter through our lives, between our houses, our office buildings, through our parks and farms. They are arriving because the first milkweed plants are just starting to emerge from the ground.

Milkweed plants can grow two or three inches in their first day above ground. Monarch butterflies time their migration so that they arrive just on time—often that same first milkweed day. They lay their eggs and die shortly after arriving in milkweed country.

Monarch larvae extract poisons from milkweed—poisons they use to discourage predators such as birds. The Monarch’s bright colors thus warn predators of an unsavory and perhaps unhealthy experience. The toxins include a heart poison. Two other butterflies—the Queen and the Viceroy—mimic the Monarch’s colors in order to accomplish the same result, although they are not poisonous to birds.

Monarchs usually mate in large colonies. The male sprinkles the female with pheromones and forces her to the ground. They wrestle for several minutes as he gets into position. When the female folds her wings in submission, he grabs her and takes off for the tops of trees where they will remain together for several hours. The male may mate three times before dying. Groundbreaking butterfly researcher Mariam Rothschild described the Monarch as a “prime example of nature’s male chauvinist pig.” On the other hand, she also wrote:

“Butterflies add another dimension to the garden, for they are like dream flowers—childhood dreams—which have broken loose from their stalks and escaped into the sunshine. Air and angels...”

Male monarchs require lots of water to reproduce and can be seen drinking dew from plants in the early morning. Their spermatophore are 90 percent water and can equal 10 percent of the male’s weight. The bigger and wetter the spermatophore of the male, the longer the female will delay before mating with another male.

Monarchs also help plants reproduce. They depend on nectar for food, and in the process are important pollinators.

In celebration of the Great Dance of Life,

Roderick W. MacIver