A few blog posts back, I wrote about finding a monarch larva and promised an update. He was very, very tiny when I found him, barely noticeable on the furry back of the milkweed leaf. That was when he was just a baby. And then there is now….
Eek! My caterpillar is a teenager. He is “eating us out of house and home,” his room is a mess, and he doubles in size every day. Did I mention he is naughty? The other day I found him on the inside of the water container that keeps the milkweed fresh. I never see him moving, but I sure do see signs that he has been crawling about.
We’ve added a forked branch for a chrysalis to hang on in case he gets any ideas about becoming an adult and leaving home. This is like parenting on fast forward. Remember when you were just getting comfortable with one stage and they moved on to the next? Same thing.
For now, he is in his glass home resting and I will just content myself with that until the next big change.
I found this little guy on the last leaf of the last milkweed plant I looked at on my walk Friday. And I almost missed him. He looks quite impressive in this photo but he is actually very tiny, about the length of a dime.
He is now living on the screen porch in a fish tank with a fresh supply of milkweed leaves but has not ventured from the leaf where I found him. The edges of the leaf have been nibbled on both ends, so I know he has been moving about.
It takes a monarch about a month to go through the stages from egg to adult – egg, larva (caterpillar), pupa (chrysalis) and adult. My newly found larva has a lot of growing to do in a very short time. And I am a bit worried. I have discovered that like all good ideas I bluster upon, it can be more complicated than it seems at first. For instance, I read that monarchs are usually raised in mesh cages for air circulation and that the milkweed leaves should be placed in water to prevent them from drying out. I don’t have a mesh cage, but I did place cheesecloth on top of the tank so that he can’t escape but still has a supply of fresh air. I have added a new sprig of milkweed and placed it in some fresh water. We’ll see… I’ll keep you posted.
I have been thinking about wild places lately and by that I don’t mean the wilderness that surrounds me just steps from my gardens. I am thinking more about those untended places that grow scrub grasses and bushes. I remember reading years ago that people in Europe always left sections of their backyards wild. The mystical among them thought it would be good karma to leave space for the wee folk and fairies. Others might have garnered that these wild spaces were very valuable real estate for other reasons. Wild spaces are homes to birds, insects, butterflies, bees and other pollinators that are crucial for the crops that feed us. It’s about having a balanced ecosystem.
What got me thinking about all this was seeing that at the corners of our fields and in the untended places the milkweed have returned and along with them the monarch butterflies.
When we first moved here our field had been left to revert to its wild state. It was overgrown and alive with milkweed, Joe-Pye weed and goldenrod in the late summer. I remember the air being full of the silky seeds from the milkweed pods on breezy fall days. This changed as we became managers of our field and plowed it to grow vegetables and then after that had it cut once or twice a year for hay. The floods these last few years have left the edges of the field difficult to cut and they have once again returned to their wild state.
I think all of this is a very good thing for our property and for the eco-system we are trying to nurture. As an added bonus, the wild areas at this time of year are very, very beautiful. They are dominated by goldenrod and Joe-Pye weed, a truly magnificent combination of mustard yellow and rose-lavender. In certain lights the blending of the two just takes my breath away.
I have been checking out the health of the newly returned milkweed plants and have noticed that they have already formed the green cob-like pods. I was also looking for signs that the monarchs I have seen around are laying their eggs for their last transformation. There is a bit of urgency now because the newly hatched butterflies will have a long migration ahead of them before the cold weather sets in.
I found a leaf in the field that appears to have an egg on the underside of its leaf and have brought it home so that you and I can watch this miracle happen. If you have never seen a monarch pupa, you are in for a big treat. Let’s hope that I have found the egg I am looking for.