My involvement in monarch conservation has spanned for almost two decades! Some, in our local community, might even refer to me as the butterfly lady! Teaching first my garden club students (over 500 hundred during the lifetime of the club) and then, neighbors, community members from other organizations such as Lion’s Club, church groups, and other garden clubs, as well as my peers in our master gardener association, it has been a satisfying and joyful activity.
Usually, by this time, I have raised and released at least a dozen or two monarchs. Last year, I cut back due to research showing that monarchs completing their life cycle inside -such as a kitchen or laundry room – might not develop the navigational tools to fly south. Now, if you know anything about monarchs, you might realize that this only applies to the last generation of the summer – the “super generation” as to which it is commonly referred, that will migrate to Mexico in the fall.
This year, I will start keeping the monarch eggs and caterpillars I find in my garden in late summer, in a large screen enclosed area, so they receive the benefit of light, dark, and the natural climate control of day and night. This is a wise move, I believe so they are in more of a natural environment and not an artificially cooled one with electric lights. My handy husband will make the enclosure for me this month.
But, until the past weekend, I was starting to think my plans were for naught. I had only seen a handful of monarchs fly through our yard and not observed ANY eggs or caterpillars on the milkweed patches in our yard. The same was true for anywhere we hiked, including some conserved properties in our area. For example, both the Holland Sand Prairie and the USFWS Upper Missississippi Wildlife Refuge had more common milkweed than I’ve seen in years, but NONE of it was being eaten. Eaten leaves are a sure sign of monarch caterpillars doing their job, which is that of growing! Aphids had already taken over my common milkweed – and while I do not have a problem with them being there, I remained disappointed that I did not observe the monarch life cycle taking place in my yard where it has occurred for close to two decades!
I keep records of my observations on the Journey North website, acting since 2006 as a citizen scientist, contributing my data of monarch arrival dates each year. I can verify that it is very late.
However, this weekend, we were at our cabin and I was able to spot four monarch eggs on common milkweed and found one large (stage 4) larva (caterpillar). Those were found on July 3rd. Yesterday, two of the monarch eggs hatched tiny caterpillars. They had both eaten their eggshells by the time I observed them on the leaves. And, I was able to find two more eggs in our yard (7/6/20). The large caterpillar is now hanging in a pre-pupal “J”, indicating that we’ll have a chrysalis by tomorrow!
Observing the monarch’s life cycle has been a part of our summer for so many years now. I am so happy I can see it is continuing, even though it was late in coming this year.
Today is Slice of Life Tuesday. Thanks to TwoWritingTeachers.org and their blog sharing forum for offering a great opportunity to share our writing with others. It is a wonderfully supportive group.
Carol, thank you for sharing this! Just the other day I was able to buy some native milkweed and I hope to see it visited by monarchs in the future. I’m sorry to say, though, that I’ve seen very few butterflies of any type this year. I hope that can change, but when I see the huge farm equipment spraying the fields around me I’m definitely put into a funk. The monarch life cycle really is an incredible thing to behold!
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Thanks for buying some milkweed native to your area of the country, Tim. May I ask if you bought seed or seedlings? And, from where? I, also, have seen very few butterflies in general this year. We have spent the last two weekends at our cabin, however, and they do seem to be more plentiful up there. But, thare is so much milkweed that is not being eaten by larva – that is concerning to me! Right now I have twelve caterpillars munching on milkweed from the field next to our house. My patch has been infested by aphids this year!