Two weeks ago I found a monarch caterpillar on the back of a milkweed leaf in the field across from our home. He was so tiny he was barely noticeable. What a difference two weeks can make. Here is the same caterpillar yesterday.
When I brought this little guy home, it was as an experiment in raising a monarch. I have only seen a few monarchs these last couple of years and know the survival rate of the larva in the wild is less than 10%. I was feeling optimistic about them returning here in greater numbers when I saw that milkweed had taken hold again in the wild edges of the fields.
Little did I know when I started this experiment that it would turn out to be a rescue mission. Here is a picture (taken two days ago) of the same spot where I found the monarch caterpillar.
The farmer had left the field fallow all summer and this past week he decided to harrow it. My caterpillar, and any of his siblings, would have lost their chance to continue on into future generations. Meanwhile, my rescued one should be making his cocoon any day now, if his size is anything to go by.
This is not a new or unusual story. Farmers plow their fields and wildlife gets destroyed in the process. (I’ll tell you about the plight of the nesting bobolinks next spring.) What this does do, however, is recommit me to leaving the borders of our field wild so that we don’t play a part in the demise of any vulnerable species struggling for their survival.
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.