During the last week, I have resumed care of my monarchs in very stages of their life cycle. Right now, I have the following:
- 8 Chyrsalises
- 4 Larvae in J hooks
- 4 Larvae in the earliest instar stages
- 2 eggs
What is unusual about this year, besides getting a very late start to finding monarch caterpillars on my milkweed is that all but three of those that are being raised have been done so from finding eggs! I have never had so much success with finding and raising monarch butterflies from the egg stage. Usually, I find fairly large caterpillars (instars 2-4) on my milkweed. All of the eggs have been found on my common milkweed plants and all but two have been on the underside of the leaves. Two eggs were laid right on the top of the leaves.
I do not know if, after many years of raising monarchs, I am just better at recognizing the eggs, or it has just been luck. I do think I have been more patient this year when I have looked in my garden patch for caterpillars. Since I was not finding any, until about a month ago, I really started inspecting the leaves throughly just hoping to find a sign monarchs had visited the habitat we have made for them in our yard.
Apprehensive would be the best way to describe finding all these eggs! You might recall from an earlier blog post that I left on vacation just days after finding ten monarch eggs. The caterpillars started to emerge when I was gone and I came home to ten, fast growing, healthy larvae.
Since I want to tag the monarchs I raised, I ordered tracking tags from Monarch Watch at the University of Kansas. This will be the third year that I have tagged the butterflies before their migration. You can purchase 25 tags for $15.00 plus shipping/handling, right off their website. The tags are on their way, having been shipped a couple of days ago.
From experience, I know that it takes 10-14 days for the butterflies to emerge from their chrysali. Hopefully, the tags will be here by then. I have continued to observe and collect more monarch eggs and caterpillars. With the exception of the three larger caterpillars I found on my swamp milkweed, I am finding only eggs or very tiny, just emerged, caterpillars. Daily, fresh milkweed has been provided, a count has been made, and the containers (3) cleaned.
Always a satisfying experience, I often think about my garden club students when I am tending the monarchs during the summer. The Monarch Life Cycle was a student favorite, being requested year after year as one of our unit topics. At the beginning of each school year, I had the luxury of surveying students about what they wanted to study during our meetings. The three topics with the most votes were added to my theme/unit plans for the year. I strongly feel, when possible, we need to give students a voice. I can attest that this increases student engagement and depth of learning. Situations that are ideal for this are project based learning, such as National History Day selections, Science Fair projects, or Place Based Learning on local culture, customs, flora, and fauna. Talented and gifted (TAG) students also greatly benefit from being asked what they want to learn more about. Forcing subject matter down the throat of any student, but especially the gifted, can have immediate and lasting negative effects.
No, studying the monarch life cycle, their current habitat plight, and miraculous metamorphosis was not everyone’s preference. However, since the students could select more than one topic of study, hopefully most students eventually got to learn about something that mattered to them, be it earthworms, cacti, succulents, corn, carnivorous plants, pumpkins, or something else. We explored many different topics over 13 years, but none were as requested, enriching, or satisfying as our experience with monarchs, the butterfly garden, and citizen science projects having to do with this incredible creature.