The Real Story of the Very Hungry Caterpillar

Although found around the world, the monarch butterfly is the queen of the New Zealand garden and is our largest common butterfly.

Interestingly, the monarch butterfly is considered a New Zealand native because it became established here all on its own. Scientists think that the butterfly flew from New Caledonia or Vanuatu to Australia by cyclones, and then hightailed it across to New Zealand years later.

Kiwi kids enjoy watching these marvellous bugs change from an egg to a caterpillar and then to a chrysalis (pupa) each summer. Inside this chrysalis, the monarch butterfly is transforming. After a week or two, the adult butterfly will emerge and hang upside down for a few hours, drying its wings before flying off to lay more eggs and start the process all over again.

Kiwi monarchs have unique migration patterns and their behaviour differs from their northern friends. When the temperature drops below 13 degrees monarchs all flock together to milder, sheltered spots to trees with rough bark to hold onto, called ‘overwintering sites’. These sites are based in Northland, Hawke’s Bay, Nelson and Christchurch. Christchurch is particularly spoilt with many ‘overwintering sites’, so there are many places to spot large clusters of monarch butterflies hanging in trees. It’s a pretty fantastic thing to see!