While my veggies have had some ups and downs, one thing has been growing like gangbusters… monarch caterpillars! Yay! Ever since planting milkweed a few weeks ago these adorable stripy creatures have been hatching like crazy. I have spent many pleasant hours watching them contentedly chewing their way through my plants. They basically spend their whole caterpillar life – two weeks, give or take – munching milkweed, gaining nourishment for their transformation into butterflies.
Until recently I knew nothing about these guys. I knew the butterflies were big and pretty but I did not know they were disappearing due to loss of habitat. I really did not know their caterpillars look like baby tigers. And I especially did not know that they eat milkweed, and they only eat milkweed. They eat A LOT of milkweed. For real, they will eat these plants to the ground! I’ve already been back to the nursery for five more plants which, of course, had eggs already, which will hatch and eat these plants to the ground, so I’ll go back to the nursery for more plants… and so on. Take note nurseries, milkweed is good for business!
We see a few monarchs every year, but we’ve never had caterpillars and now I know why. It has been exciting to see how quickly the migrating monarchs discovered our little patch of milkweed and started laying tiny white eggs. If you look closely you can see one on the underside of a leaf above the lowest caterpillar in the pic above the pic above. I know, that’s confusing, but blogging sometimes gets that way. Anyway, look at the only underside of a leaf showing in that whole picture with all the caterpillars – do you see the egg? It’s really tiny!
I’ve learned that monarchs go through five stages, known as “instars.” Each stage is accompanied by a shedding of their skin, which is more like a cuticle than skin apparently. During this process the caterpillar will wander away from the milkweed and stay very still, sometimes up to 36 hours, while it sheds and then proceeds to eat its outer layer. Sometimes the instars change dramatically, others are so similar I can’t yet tell them apart.
At some point in the 5th instar stage instinct drives them to wander off, find a nice place to hang, shed their final ‘skin’ and transform into a gorgeous bright green chrysalis. Speaking of which, while we were out of town last week some little smarty pants thought it would be funny to perform this magical act on our outdoor shower head.
Inconvenient for us, but so pretty! Can’t you just picture the woman who would wear these as earrings? Unfortunately that woman is not me, and since we use our shower daily I decided to relocate the chrysalis to a better place to hatch. Following instructions at monarchwatch.org I started by tying a thread around its stem. Using a needle I was able to gently pry the silky threads from the shower head and release the pod.
In order for the butterfly to form properly the monarch pupa must be hanging, so I tied the thread through some cheesecloth and attached it with a rubber band over the top of a big glass jar. I’m keeping an eye on it so I can release the butterfly as soon as its wings have dried. If I manage to capture the moment it hatches on film you’ll be the first to know!
To all my lovely blog-buddies at Angie’s blog party, I’m back and I’ve missed you! Happy Fiesta Friday #21… I hope I brought enough milkweed for everyone 🙂
Visit monarchwatch.org to learn more about attracting monarch butterflies to your garden. Not only are they beautiful creatures, they are great pollinators and they need our help! It’s a total win-win.
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