As of last night, this monarch breeding season has allowed me to raise and release 13 adult monarch butterflies! That number is many times greater than than last year at this time, when I had only released one, on July 9th. Last year, although a great late season in tagging numbers, had a very slow start. It was just the opposite this year. Due to weather patterns, my milkweed had germinated, grown to a foot tall, and was patiently waiting for monarch visits by the end of May!
Right now, I have 7 monarch eggs, six caterpillars, and 8 chrysalises! Until last year finding Monarch eggs was elusive for me. But, I have had success now finding the eggs, caring for them in separate containers until, after about 3-4 days, a very, very tiny, black headed caterpillar sans stripes emerges and eats its own eggshell. Two of the six caterpillars I currently have just emerged from their eggs the night before last. But, four of the thirteen that I have released were raised from the egg stage.
My milkweed has flourished in this hot, humid, and sometimes very rainy weather we’ve experienced this year. It is already past the flowering stage and will be setting seed pods soon. The patch at school is no different.
Yesterday, I was able to present to a group of 3-5th graders during their summer school class at school. I brought me cages so they could see the eggs, the caterpillars in various sizes, and the chrysalises. After our discussion, we went outside to the garden to look at the butterfly habitat we have there. I wanted them to be able to identify those aspects of habitat that we are providing on our school grounds.
Plant Food Times Two
Food for both for caterpillars and butterflies. This means having host plants for each. They were able to see the milkweed we have for the caterpillars (and for the female adults to lay their upon), and nectar plants for the adult butterflies. We have zinnia, coneflower, black-eyed Susan, liatris, and more in our school garden for nectar.
Water & Sun
While we don’t have any formal water features in the garden, aside from the rain barrel which is capped, there are some spots that butterflies could puddle. Namely this is a stretch of pea gravel along the front of the bed, and some stumps and rocks that have have crevices that will hold a shallow pool of water, just right for sipping. Those rocks and gravel have another significant function and that is the provision of a place to bask in the sun to warm up. Butterflies are cold – blooded meaning that they need the sun to warm themselves. This plays and increasing important role for the monarchs as the fall migration season approaches, because they cannot fly until it is about 65 degrees F. It is is too cool, they cannot start off on their trip of a lifetime! We had one monarch, years ago, emerge in late September, only to sit in a plum tree in our yard for more than two days, until it became warm enough to wing out of here! Sitting in the sun to warm is called basking. Our rocks and gravel, sidewalk and blacktop, all provide places in or near our school garden to do that. All butterfly habitats should be in a sunny spot.
The students immediately understood that shelter meant a place for protection from predators and the elements of weather, like wind and rain. I further enriched their knowledge with letting them know it also was necessary as a place to raise their young. Although, there is some use of camouflage in some of the butterfly life cycle stages, certainly there is none for that bright orange and black butterfly when a bird is chasing them or the shelter from a summer storm is necessary. Shelter is a necessary piece of habitat for all. We all need a place to rest.
Just as we were standing in the garden, a monarch flew into the milkweed patch. It sipped nectar from the flowers and maybe laid an egg on a leaf of the milkweed plant that was providing a meal. The students were excited, as was I. They got to see all four stages of the iconic monarch butterfly in one morning!
One thing I try to impress during my presentations on monarchs is that we all have to do our part. So, each student was sent home with a packet of milkweed seeds to plant in their garden – in a sunny spot, of course!
It’s been a wonderful season so far for raising monarchs. Soon, it will be time to start tagging them as they continue to reproduce into the month of August. Stay tuned for further updates.