The Monarch Monitoring Project is a long-term study on monarch migration through Cape May, NJ. It is a part of the New Jersey Audubon Research Department, and closely affiliated with the Cape May Bird Observatory.

Monday, September 12, 2016

The Old and the New

We've been seeing an average number of monarchs for the first few weeks of September.  We're not prepared to make any predictions for how this season will stack up against previous years, that's always hard to do.  Every year at this season we see a mix of two generations, the migrants and the last pre-migratory generation.

 The migrating monarchs are typically very brightly colored and fresh-looking.  There may be some damage to the wings, like what's shown on the monarch above (left hind wing, near the body), but the overall condition is very good.  Behavior is an important clue, and the monarchs migrating to Mexico show no interest in courtship or mating, they're just feeding and moving.

 Compare that with the faded, worn monarch shown next.  This one is almost certainly a member of generation that's parenting the long distance migrants.  It's been around for a while, losing scales from the wing to produce a paler, worn appearance, and in the case of this butterfly, showing significant damage to the wings.  Monarchs from this generation are still actively courting and reproducing.  They've parented the many caterpillars that we're still seeing in the gardens around Cape May Point, such as the one below.

The bulk of the migrating monarchs have yet to arrive into Cape May Point, but it's still a terrific time to visit.  The gardens are filled with a variety of butterflies at this season.  One great place to visit is the Triangle Park, shown below, located at the junction of Lighthouse and Coral Avenues in Cape May Point.  Starting this Thursday, Sept. 15, we'll offer a free "drop-in" program at this park every day at 11:00 am through Oct. 19.  Come meet members of the Cape May Monarch Monitoring Project team and learn about our research, the biology of monarch butterflies, and perhaps also find some of the other butterflies that are visiting the garden.

It's easy to find 10 or more species of butterflies in this garden and in the surrounding neighborhood right now.  Two are shown below.  What you may notice first, however, is a moth, not a butterfly.  Over the last few days we've witnessed a remarkable surge of soybean looper moths, apparently dispersing into Cape May Point from areas to the south.  These attractive little moths are abundant in every garden, it seems.  We don't know if they'll be around for another month, another week, or just another day, but we're happy to see them.  Cape May Point always provides surprises, and the onslaught of soybean loopers is just the latest.  We don't know what the next unexpected sighting will be, but if it relates to the monarch migration you can count on learning about it right here.

Soybean looper, currently abundant around Cape May Point.
Sachem, a bright little skipper that's always abundant
at Cape May Point in September.
This very fresh summer azure was in the Triangle Park today.

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