One Milkweed to 38 Monarch Caterpillars

The ONLY plant that monarch caterpillars can eat is milkweed.  There are many varieties, so it’s best to buy the ones that are native to your area if you’re interested in helping the monarch butterflies reproduce.  It’s kind of like a science experiment in your yard.  I have learned things about these amazing creatures through seeing them live through their life cycle that I never knew before.  And it started with one plant.

Sure these little guys will start off tiny and within a matter of days double their size over and over.  In the process they will systematically eat every single leaf and flower off your milkweed.  But it’s okay.  Because milkweeds are built for this.  They will grow back.  And then a monarch or two will lay eggs on it again and it’ll get mowed again and it will again grow back.

So when my daughter and I counted 38 baby caterpillars on our ONE milkweed about a week ago, I knew they would run out of feasting material fast.  So I went to the nursery and bought 3 more plants.  Then 2 days later I bought 6 more.  And they were finally happy and fat and had had their fill of the buffet.  Whew!  It was then that I got worried.  They were lethargic and many had curled up.  I calmed my concerns with a quick internet search informing me that they do this before getting ready for their next stage in the chrysalis.

And then they started disappearing.  They were off to find their magic place to make their final transformation into a butterfly.  I managed to find 4 of them in a nearby tall bush called “pink breath of heaven”.  When they attach themselves to wherever they have chosen and form their “J” as my daughter likes to call it, they are C O M P L E T E L Y still.  Take a glimpse at the 3rd and 4th pictures below.  That’s the same caterpillar before and after the chrysalis.  And the time in between taking those shots today?  2 hours.  That’s it.  You can youtube a video of a time lapse of this process if you’re interested.  Pretty amazing.  Now we wait!

 

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Milkweed and Monarchs

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A few mornings ago I saw this beauty while out on my morning walk around the yard on our recently acquired milkweed plant.  These plants are havens for butterflies and also support their lifecycle.  I felt fortunate to have caught it on camera when I did.  I presume it was laying an egg or two since yesterday these 2 were found cruising around the same plant:

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This last photo is sort of a “Where’s Waldo” of caterpillars. It’s exciting seeing these caterpillars grow so fast on the milkweed.  My mom told me that when they’re big enough, they leave the plant to find a safe place to make their chrysalis.  I was relieved to hear this because last week’s large caterpillar seemed to have disappeared and I was worried about a bird having eaten it for a snack! (By the way, my mom gets all the credit for inspiring me to buy a milkweed plant.  She has many in her front yard and even though she doesn’t care for the twiggy look it has after the caterpillars have eaten it all up, she knows the plant will grow back to feed a whole new crop of future monarchs.)  Seeing the butterfly’s life cycle in action is also a wonderful science lesson for kiddos.  Do butterflies in your neck of the woods a favor and get a milkweed plant!