Sunday, July 13, 2014

Monarch Butterfly Fostering

It was just a week ago that my daughter, Alison discovered the first Monarch caterpillar in our milkweed patch!!  It wasn't even an inch long and in just one week, it has attached itself to the top of the fostering enclosure assuming the J-position that is the beginning of the transformation into a chrysalis. 
By the end of the afternoon, the transformation was complete and it looks like a piece of jade with pindots of gold.  In about 10 days, it will emerge as an adult monarch butterfly.  As I understand it, this generation of butterflies will be the parents of the generation that migrates south in September and October.
And there has been progress in the "hatchery".  It is populated with three toddlers that vary in age from 2 days to 7 days.  There's a shy one working the underside of that center leaf.  They will be moving into the fostering enclosure once they reach 1" in length.  (The little black dots are poop.)
In the meantime, I'm watching for more eggs as I harvest leaves and stalks to feed the fostering caterpillars.  I have three more eggs.  This patch was beat down by the heavy rains earlier in the week, but most of the stalks have lifted back up.  About half the plants are in bloom and if you've never enjoyed the fragrance of common milkweed, seek some out for a whiff!.  It's one of my top favorite fragrances!
In my oldest perennial garden, I have a patch of swamp milkweed. 
It's a bit tall for the bed and it doesn't have the fragrance, but I love the flowers.
The individual flowers stand upright unlike the common milkweed which hangs down.  I was reading my little guidebook this week and the fertilization process is very unique for flowers.  Each flower can generate one seedpod which will have hundreds of seeds.  Thanks goodness not every flower is fertilized! 
Both milkweed patches are loaded with a wide variety of insects!  There must be a half dozen different species of bees visiting the flowers.  I love these big bumble bees!  The book says that bumble bees are "hairy" and carpenter bees which are about the same size are "hairless".
And have you ever seen this insect?  It looks similar to a photo in my book of a thick-headed fly though there are 67 species in North America -- they are bee and wasp parasites, so it wasn't there for the flower nectar.
And this is an Earwig -- there are 18 species some of which will prey on caterpillars.  I had a tough time photographing this fellow and the book says they are nocturnal -- that explains his reluctance to stay out where I could see him.
I enjoy fostering these caterpillars so much and thought you might enjoy following along!

Mary Huey


  1. So much change happens in such a short time. I also find it fascinating.

    1. I've often tried to "catch" them in the final stage of becoming a chrysalis but always just miss it!! One minute it's an upside down caterpillar and 15 minutes later it's a chrysalis? Someday I'll see it!!

  2. I have been fascinated by this. Thanks for allowing us to watch the fun!

    1. Glad you are enjoying it. I moved 3 more into the enclosure last evening and had 4 more eggs hatch yesterday!! The frenzy is on!!