Posted by: Ross Gardner | July 19, 2018

The Monarch

It still seems strange, when I find myself reflecting on our recent travels abroad, to consider that this time six months ago it was, well… summer; for July in the UK read January in New Zealand.  The thoughts of the butterflies that have recently been gracing these pages have taken themselves back to that mid-winter summer (!) and wings of its own.

The wings in question belong to the Monarch, that butterfly of the Americas made justly famous for an incredible migration that carries it from as for north as Canada to wintering grounds in Central America.  There are traditional hibernating sites in Mexico where areas coniferous forest are burnished with the deceptively autumnal tint of millions of dormant, orange and black wings hung in great clusters from the branches.  It is a power of flight that with the aid of favourable wind has taken them across oceans.  They have, for example, colonised the Canary Islands and might also have done the same in the UK had their larval foodplant ever been in ready supply.  And they have, of course, also found their way to New Zealand, even if there appears to be some disagreement as to whether they found their own way by means of ‘island hopping’ or through more direct human assistance.

Monarch - Hamilton Gardens 8 (scaled)

One of several Monarch (Danaus plexippus) we saw at Hamilton Gardens.

Either way, they are firmly established in New Zealand.  Our delight at encountering them for the first time on the east coast of the South Island at Kaikoura I think drew the odd bemused glance from the locals; the Monarch for many New Zealanders is a common garden butterfly and a presumably familiar sight and on that they might garden for with the provision of foodplants and nectar sources as we might by planting Buddleia in the UK.  We were thrilled to see them.  They are a large and impressive butterfly, with boldly marked, orange-brown wings, edged with a black margin set with white jewels.  The colours of the underwing are more muted and the black veins more thickly traced, but arguably with more beautiful effect than the upper.  They are wings that facilitate flight which is both powerful and graceful in equal measure, moving with speed and great purpose one moment, swooping in easy, parabolic glides the next.

In Britain the sight of a Monarch making our shores is a great rarity and would be a special thing to witness.  We saw them again on our travels and sometimes in fair number.  Would it ever be possible to tire of them?

Monarch - Kaikoura (scaled)

Our first encounter at Kaikoura.

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