Slice of Life Tuesday: Talking Caterpillars with “My People”

I’ve yet to see a monarch caterpillar this year. I have three types of milkweed in my yard and an outdoor enclosure waiting to raise a few monarchs. Inside the enclosure are butterfly weed and asclepias incarnata – rose milkweed, but the caterpillars are missing.

It’s the end of June and I’ve only seen three or four adult monarchs so far this season. For a person who has been actively involved in monarch conservation since 2003, this is upsetting. Unfortunately, it is also not unexpected.

Large Monarch Caterpillar on Rose Milkweed, © Carol Labuzzetta, 2016

Over the last 18 years, I’ve noticed that some years I have a plethora of monarch cats (short for caterpillar) and some years, there are few. Of late, it’s been more common for me to not find many caterpillars on my milkweed. It’s even been hard to find any on milkweed in the fields surrounding our house or at our cabin. There’s milkweed – but it’s not being eaten.

Rose Milkweed behind our barn without evidence of monarch caterpillars eating the leaves. © Carol Labuzzetta, 2021.

Saturday, I ran into a friend who has young boys (going into fifth grade and second grade in the fall). She attended my monarch conservation presentation with her boys in 2019 and I presented similar content at her church in February of 2020, before things were shut down due to the pandemic. She has not seen caterpillars, either. It’s too bad, her boys are at a prime age for this awe-inspiring experience.

Newly hatched tiny monarch caterpillar and eggshell. © Carol Labuzzetta, 2018.

My other friend, who has three girls, has raised monarchs for years. I’ve helped them tag monarchs in the fall, as well. They have not raised any this year either but have noted that the milkweed along the hiking trail in our town has not been eaten.

It seems our immediate area is void of monarch caterpillars this year. And, the reason for that is that we’ve not been visited by many monarch butterflies. Naturally, I am wondering about the cause (other than overall multitude of reasons for the decrease in the monarch population). We’ve had unprecedented heat this month, as well as heavy rain storms, some with hail. Weather can certainly impact the monarch populations, so it might be one of the reasons we are seeing fewer butterflies, as well as fewer offspring.

Mating monarch butterflies in our yard last summer. © Carol Labuzzetta, 2020.

But, I fear the lack of caterpillars has more to do with the general decrease in monarch population. I hope, really hope, we are not beginning to see the end to the existence of this iconic species.

The only evidence of a continued monarch life cycle I’ve witnessed this year. An egg noted in early June on the common milkweed behind our house. © Carol Labuzzetta, 2021.

Today is Slice of Life Tuesday. Thank you to TwoWritingTeachers.org for creating and hosting such a supportive community of writers.

9 thoughts

  1. I always enjoy your monarch stories and am stunned at your lack of butterflies this year. Do you think it has anything to do with the extreme Arctic winter weather that dipped into southern latitudes that rarely get that cold?

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    1. Thank you so much. We are at our cabin and I’ve found 16 caterpillars in the three days we’ve been here. This is more than I’ve found in the past at the cabin. We are 150 miles NE of our primary residence, so it is odd to find so many. However, there has been much less development here – less spraying and much less disturbed habitat. So, from that perspective, it makes sense. I’ve got ten to raise – ranging from very small to very large. It’s about my max at one time – too many increases the chance for disease. In answer to you climate question – I just don’t know – I do know thta climate change is playing a part for these iconic creatures. I was wondering if the heat wave we had in June in the midwest had anything to do with the lack of caterpillars. So, we are wondering about extremes, it seems. Thank you for letting me know you enjoy these stories about monarchs!

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  2. Thank you for writing, and I also really hope that our beautiful butterflies of all types can survive and thrive. Thank you for working for this cause. Your photos are so beautiful.

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  3. I spied a “cat” on my not too good looking milkweed today–I need to get some more milkweed! (That’s what I wrote about today!) I loved reading your post and feel your pain about the potential loss of this beautiful species.

    Kim

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  4. Ohhh, I’m hoping that this dip is temporary, hoping that more milkweed planted will bring back more of these beautiful creatures. Now time to get planting…

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    1. Thank you for planting! I hope that the extra stems that are being planted do the trick! There was an article a few years ago that stated 1 BILLION new stems of milkweed was needed for the monarch to survive! That is a huge number!

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