Tagging season is here! My tags arrived from Monarch Watch last week. I had to wait a few days until a few of the chrysali were ready to burst forth with new monarchs. But, the day came on August 25th. Three monarchs were released and tagged that day….The first of the 2018 tagging season!
Two were my own, one a female and one a male. We always name the monarchs we release so the first one was named Jan, in honor of my mom, since it was her birthday! Friends recently found out I name the monarchs and a few are patiently waiting for one of these beautiful creatures to be named after them! This year, along with the required tagging data that includes the tag number, sex, date of release, and location of release, I added the butterfly’s given name – just in case that monarch is recovered in Mexico! I think it personalizes the experience a little bit and might help garner support. Early names this summer were based on scientists or mathematicians like Darwin and Fibonacci. Now, I am using more common names but going in alphabetical order, so that is what is causing some of my friends to wait for their namesake.
A Successful Adoption Story
The third monarch that was released was one that I had “watched” for a family who went on vacation. I ushered their caterpillars through that stage to the chrysalis stage, upon which they were returned to my friends when they arrived home. Saturday, I got a text that a chrysalis I was concerned about – one that had formed on a milkweed leaf and then dropped when the leaf died, had emerged! It was going to survive! I had noted that the chrysalis fell during my watch and this is not a fortunate occurrence. The chrysali need to dangle freely during the metamorphosis. Despite just having read a definitive text on monarchs and milkweed, I still do not know the scientific reason why, other than an intuitive thought that gravity must play a role in the physiology and that the monarch must be able to emerge and “hang freely” in order to dry and stiffen its wings. My hunch is that I’ve made a fairly reasonable educated guess about the necessity of the chrysali hanging. Anyway, when I noted the chrysalis had fallen, I picked it up and used tape to fix it to the side of the container, dangling freely. This was the third Monarch we released on Saturday!
Since last Saturday, I’ve tagged and released nine Monarch Butterflies! In sum, I have released a total of 41 this summer! This number includes the nine that have been tagged. If you’ve read any of my earlier posts, you know that you only tag the last generation of the breeding season because this is the generation that migrates to Mexico.
Going by the Numbers
What’s left? Well, I ordered 50 tags this year. I filled a sheet of 25 tag recordings last season (2017) and felt this year was going well, so I ordered another 25 tags. I hope to at least get into that second sheet of tags. Currently, I have 11 chrysali and 14 caterpillars that I am continuing to raise, tag, and release. My milkweed supply is plentiful but dry, brittle, and turning dark. Last night I resorted to picking some from an adjacent roadside ditch next to our house. The plants were much healthier looking and more tender for the caterpillars. As you can imagine, with so many caterpillars, I need a large supply of leaves.
Keeping the cages, or containers as I prefer to call them, clean is a daily job. As the caterpillars get larger, so does their excrement or fraas, if you want the scientific name for their poop. But, it is a job I really don’t mind – it’s all for the cause, and in truth, much less gross than cleaning a cat litter box. (And, I love cats, too!)
The Miracle of Metamorphosis
The most fascinating stage of the monarch life cycle for me is the Chrysalis or Pupa stage. It is the stage where the metamorphosis takes place. This morning, I noted that one of the caterpillars was odd-looking as he hung in his “j” hook. As I took a closer look, he was starting to split his skin for the final time – he would soon be a pupa! As I watched, he seemed to struggle. You could see him squeeze and release his body, like he was trying very hard to make something happen that ordinarily would be very quick and effortless appearing. The longer I watched, the longer it took. I snapped a couple of photos, but finally gave up on getting a video (which I already have from other years of raising monarchs, anyway). I wasn’t sure he was going to make it. And, I wasn’t sure I could stand there and watch knowing I could not do anything about it. So, I closed the laundry room door and walked away. A half hour later, I returned and guess what?! He had made his chrysalis! I marked the top of the container where he “hung” to note the date on which he pupated. Typically, it takes 10-14 days to complete the metamorphic stage, with my personal experience being closer to 10 days (probably governed, in part, by the temperature dependant AC controlled environment in our house). I’ll know in about two weeks, whether we have a survivor or not.
Speaking and Teaching Engagements
Finally, my September is filling up with opportunities to engage and educate the public on the Monarch Butterfly! This is something which I have done locally for years, on a smaller scale, usually just with neighbors or my garden club students. But, three to four years ago, my love and actions to conserve this species became more known and I started to visit classrooms to talk about the miracle of the monarch butterfly. Now, those talks also involve informing the public of what we ALL can do to help this iconic species survive. I also try to disseminate milkweed seeds whenever possible, too!
So, for the third year in a row, I will visit 1st grades in a nearby school district. There are seven sections of students that I will visit for 30 minutes each over the course of three days in mid-September. Earlier this year, I spoke with the women of the local Lions Club in our town. Now, in also in mid-September, I will speak to another Lions Club group in a town about 45 minutes away. And finally, I will be speaking to another group of elderly adults in a facility just down the road. September is filling up. I would love more engagements to talk about the passion I possess for the Monarch Butterfly. If you are local, please let me know of any interest you might have.
I am both a Master Gardener Volunteer and an Environmental Educator. Part of the mission for both roles is to educate the public. By all accounts, I am doing my job – a job I love.