Quick Monarch & Milkweed Update

Last week, I wrote my first post about monarch butterflies for the season. Here is what’s happened since then. Currently, I have 9 chrysalises. A few should be ready to eclose soon. Eclosure is the process of the adult butterfly emerging from the chrysalis. Two just recently changed from the caterpillar to the pupa (chrysalis) stage of the monarch life cycle. it takes about two weeks for the metamorphosis to take place inside the hard case of the chrysalis.

This year, I’ve kept Chrysalises separate from growing caterpillars. One the caterpillars get to a stage 5 instar (the largest before pupation), I move them to the container with the chrysalises and continue to feed them fresh milkweed from my yard. Within a day or the caterpillars J hook and then pupate. I have thousands of photographs of this process, so I am not concentrating on taking any more this year. I am just enjoying the observation of the monarch life cycle on a limited basis.

Monarch egg hatching. This one took it’s own sweet time to come out, but the next day, we had a tiny caterpillar! © Carol Labuzzetta, 2021

My caterpillar count has steadily grown as well. I have had great luck finding eggs and instar stage one caterpillars in my yard. As I noted in my previous post, I am not collecting every single caterpillar or egg that I see. I just don’t need to and I also have less chance of disease if I do not crowd my cage. I’ve learned this from experience.

Tiny caterpillar. Just hatched. © Carol Labuzzetta, 2021

My current count is six caterpillars, all instar stage 1 or two, and one egg. At least three of the caterpillars that are stage one came from eggs I collected. It is amazing how small the caterpillars are when they emerge from their egg. And, the first thing they do is to eat their egg shell! Then, it’s nothing but milkweed, milkweed, and more milkweed!

Two Caterpillars (one is by finger). © Carol Labuzzetta, 2021
One of the “larger” caterpillars I have right now. Still, small, actually! Eating rose milkweed..Carol Labuzzetta, 2021

My milkweed is picked fresh daily from the gardens/habitat I have in my yard. I have rose milkweed, common milkweed, and butterfly weed. Whorled milkweed is also native here but does not grow well for me. It likes a sandier soil and we have a lot of clay. The rose or swamp milkweed, Asclepias incarnata, is starting to bloom and I always enjoy it’s lovely pink flower clusters.

As I wrote last week, I have an outdoor enclosure with two types of milkweed growing it in. I also have two caterpillars that naturally hatched outside in the enclosure and are growing inside, on the milkweed. I have now closed the screen door on the enclosure to keep the Japanese beetles out. They have started to accumulated on my Wild Romance aster, which is right next to the enclosure. I do not know if they “eat” monarch larvae or eggs but they might eat the milkweed leaves. However, there is a strong possibility they won’t due to the toxic nature of the plant. I’ll have to do some reading on it. There is a whole ecosystem of insects that live on milkweed, not just the monarch larvae. This I do know.

My tags have been ordered from Monarch Watch – I was optimistic and ordered more than I usually do – in hopes I might be able to hold a class on tagging. The next month will be telling. If not, I consider my purchase a donation to a worthy cause.

Lastly, I plan to do my first field observation next week in a State Natural Area about an hour south of my home. I have to say, I just LOVE the DNR staff in our state! They are so knowledgeable and accommodating. I am looking forward to my introductory tour of the property I’ll help to monitor this year.

How are the monarchs doing near you? I’d love to hear.

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