Poetry Friday: The First Caterpillar of the Year!

Late yesterday afternoon, I saw my first monarch caterpillar of the year. Really?!

Wow, it is late. Five years ago, I saw my first larva on June 19th.

© Carol Labuzzzetta, 2022.

We did move three hours north, but we moved to a cabin that we built in 2005 and have visited multiple times a year since. So, I am familiar with the natural rhythms of this place as well. And it’s still late.

The caterpillar was at least a stage 3 instar, perhaps a stage 4. I couldn’t really get a good look at it because I didn’t want to touch the milkweed as I had just sprayed it with “OFF” for our evening walk. Unfortunately, I’ve made that mistake before and I never want to make it again. I learned my lesson; don’t touch plants or insects you want to watch develop if you use a chemical product on your person. It is easily passed on to other (much smaller) living things and is deadly. I guess that’s the point when using it to deter mosquitos and black flies, but not monarch eggs or larva.

Since this caterpillar was a decent size and munching away on a common milkweed plant, he/she had been around a while – maybe a week to ten days. The reason I noticed the caterpillar tonight was that I saw the leaves had been eaten on the milkweed. Eaten milkweed leaves are a key indicator of the presence of monarch larva. It is, after all, the only plant they eat. Unfortunately, much of the milkweed I’ve observed this year has been untouched (i.e. uneaten).

Reading of Ode to Milkweed at Poetry of Our Times Event in Mc Gregor Iowa, May 2022. This and other butterfly poems are featured in my book Life’s Inspiration and Reflection in a Few Words (2022). © Carol Labuzzetta, 2022.

Monarchs are a passion of mine. I’ve worked to conserve their habitat for the last twenty years. This year, the first year in twenty years, I elected to not raise any monarchs. Usually, I do this under the guise of education. And, I was modest in the numbers that I raised in the past. But, the more research I read, the more I am convinced that we could be hurting more than helping the monarch population by rearing the iconic butterfly. Diseases are more easily spread and those hand-reared might not have the right navigational development when not exposed to the phenological cycles that they would in the wild.

If you want to help monarchs, plant milkweeds native to your area of the country. If you need to know which types of milkweeds are native to your area, you can consult Monarch Watch’s page on Milkweed Seeds and Needs by region. I also just found a page that you can call up which milkweed is native to your area by state, here. And, my favorite resource, Monarch Joint Venture, for whom I volunteer as a habitat surveyor for the IMMP (integrated Monarch Monitoring Project), and many information sheets on milkweed by region, here. And there are more. Just be sure the resource you use is reputable.

Finally, I wrote a poem this morning, just for Poetry Friday, based on the monarch caterpillar I saw last night. It’s a draft but I’m sure I’ll work on it more and add it to my collection of monarch poetry.

Caterpillar

Clinging to the leaf
Near the stem
You eat

Leaves tell of
Your presence
Half gone

Half way through
Your larval stage
You eat more

Final molting
A week until
You stop

Being what you are
A hard enclosure
Let’s you change

Are you resting?
Do you feel?
The chyrsalis is a mystery

Just as what you will
Do with your
New life

Safe travels
My monarch
Friend

May you find food
Along the way
Wherever you go

Maybe making it
All the way to
Mexico!

© Draft, Carol Labuzzetta, 2022

Today is Poetry Friday! Our host is Jan from BookSeedStudio. Be sure to check her page for her post and links to other participants. Thanks for hosting, Jan!

All Photos, © by Carol Labuzzetta. 2003-2022. All rights reserved.

14 thoughts

  1. Carol, your knowledge of the monarch butterfly is amazing. I enjoyed your oral reading of your poem. Your new poem has the content ready for you to edit along the way. The photos are spectacular. Enjoy your caterpillars and butterflies.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Carol! I am having time management problems between getting settled at the cabin, going back to NY to see my parents, and returning to WI. Just catching up on comments now. I always appreciate your kind response and feedback! Thanks, again!

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  2. What a monarch journey you’ve been on! Compared to you, I’m late to the game. I’m not bringing caterpillars inside this year as I have in the past. They are on their own in our garden. I’ve seen two late instar caterpillars so far. One was WAY early — first week of June, and the other was about a week ago. I’ve got some milkweed leaves with holes in them (sign of the newly hatched) but no more sightings. I’m ready for the monarchs to come to all my milkweed and the black swallowtails to come to the dill and fennel! Bring it!!

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    1. So happy you are enjoying the butterflies as well, Mary Lee. I apologize for my late response. I am seeing lots of verdent milkweed, uneaten, unfortunately. We did see a couple of adult monarchs flitting aroundour lake house in the last few weeks. Only that one larva I wrote about a couple of weeks ago. At the house we moved from my husband built an outdoor enclosure for the monarchs. It is in its third year and finally has enough milkweed inside the enclosure to support visiting monarchs. I wanted this enclosure so I could continue to raise them but outside. We haven’t done anything like that at the cabin yet. I hope you have a summer full of butterflies!

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  3. I do not ever find the larva but a swallowtail returns to my garden each year. He’s been around for a few weeks, love seeing the flutter! And I love all that you’ve shared about the monarchs, Carol, & a new poem, too. It seems like such a miracle to me from beginning to end. Thanks, also love those pictures!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Linda! it is a miraculous life cycle and migration, too, when it comes to monarchs. But, I love Swallowtails as well. They are all so beautiful! Thanks for the comment! I apologize for the late response!

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  4. Even though we have milkweed on our property, I have yet to find any evidence of monarch activity. I have, however, seen caterpillars on the milkweed adjacent to the Starbucks kiosk speaker. (This strikes me as unfair but I was still happy about it–mostly! lol) I have a different variety of milkweed that volunteered this year in my garden and live in hope! Love all those photos and your poem. Thanks for all that you do to support the monarchs!

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    1. Thanks so much! Yes, it always seem unfair when others or an untended patch gets the caterpillars you want so very much! I agree that while your still happy about it, it makes one a little sad and almost resentful! I hope that you now have caterpillars on all your varieities of milkweed. (I miss my swamp and whorled milkweed from my previous yard – here we just have common – so far!

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  5. Thank you for this interesting and informational post and links to resources. I am intrigued by the idea that we might, with the best of intentions to help address a problem, inadvertently be hurting the very flora and fauna we hope to help.

    I enjoyed your poem and photos!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. What a perfect pairing of poem and photos. I love how the short stanzas are tiny descriptions of a bigger picture…a collage all on its own.

    Liked by 1 person

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