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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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