As a self-taught and self-proclaimed Monarch Butterfly Conservationist who has been active in assisting the habitat needs for this species for the last 14 years, I can share an optimistic report for this season.
My third year of tagging went well. I was able to fill the data reporting sheet obtained from Monarch Watch that came with my tags. One filled sheet means I was able to successfully tag 25 Monarch butterflies before they were released in late August and early September. Of course, I was able to raise more than the twenty-five I tagged. The total number raised this summer was closer to 35-40 eggs and caterpillars that were collected from my home milkweed patches, raised and released, from June through September.
The very last monarch hatched early last week, still in the month of September, on an uncharacteristically warm day that unfortunately, was also very windy. Earlier that month, while I was tagging and releasing 2-4 butterflies a day to make their journey south, I noted a caterpillar in a “J” hook on my swamp milkweed plant. I decided to leave it there, in my garden, exposed to nature. I would keep an “eye” on it. Soon enough, the caterpillar pupated and made its chrysalis or hard case, as is what happens with monarchs. It seemed to be doing fine. After all, this is how nature intended it. Despite days windy enough to blow the majority of leaves off of my swamp milkweed, the chrysalis stayed attached and proceeded through its metamorphosis. Towards the end of ten days, and after a few days of the uncharacteristic ninety degree temperatures, I went to check on the pupa. My first thoughts were of excitement. It looked like the butterfly had just eclosed. The wings were wet and being blown around constantly by the wind. But soon I noted that the wings were being folded and bent by the wind – they had not stiffened, although they were straight. The belly or abdomen was no longer swollen! This meant all the fluid contained within had already been pumped out to the wings of the butterfly. I went into butterfly “nurse” mode. Oh, how I wanted this last monarch to survive! Damn! Why had I not brought it inside?
I went and got my empty cage; the one I used to raise the monarchs in this summer. Inside I put a stick and a couple of branches from my geranium plant. I needed to get him or her out of the wind. But, it was no use. The butterfly appeared weak. It was unable to right itself if it came off one of the branches. The wings were floppy. I wondered if it would be able to fly.
After several failed attempts to have the monarch “dry” off and “stiffen” in a protected area, out of the wind, I gave up. I put the monarch on my Limelight Hydrangea, just outside my front door, on one of the giant flower heads. Maybe, it just needed to eat.
There it hung – looking normal, although I knew it was not. Periodically, I checked on it. I photographed it. I hoped it would be okay. Within several hours, it was gone. Although, I looked (on the ground) I did not see it again. Mother nature had determined the fate of this monarch, just as she does with any of the others I have released. Most do well, sadly, a few do not. All in all, it was a great season for Monarchs at my home.