Since this series began in January 2018 there have been over 1000 Posts from Your Archives where bloggers have taken the opportunity to share posts to a new audience… mine.
The topics have ranged from travel, childhood, recipes, history, family and the most recent series was #PotLuck where I shared a random selection of different topics. This series is along the same lines… but is a ‘Lucky Dip’. I have posts scheduled for another few weeks but that will bring this current series to an end. Another series will begin in the new year.
In this series I will be sharing posts from the half of 2022
Today author and poet Miriam Hurdle shares the wonder of enabling the beautiful monarch butterfly to develop in her garden in amazing photographs and videos
Myprevious postmentioned one female monarch came back from the south earlier than I expected. She laid many eggs on my milkweed. There were three adult monarchs that emerged from the chrysalises before our Memorial Day weekend trip to see our grandkids in Oregon.
Before going on the trip, I asked my neighbor to babysit the caterpillars, but she didn’t feel comfortable doing it. I bought two additional butterfly cages with a total of four, and put the milkweed with the most eggs in the cages, then left them alone. One cage had five chrysalises. I left the cage door open in case the adult monarchs emerge while we were gone.
When we came back from the trip, two of the chrysalises had only empty shells. I was glad the cage door was open, so the butterflies flew away. There were still three monarchs that emerged after we returned home.
The other three cages had tons of caterpillars. Some grew bigger in our absence. Some eggs were hatched.
I only had enough milkweed to feed the caterpillars I had so far. My visit to the nursery was disappointing because the plant was dry and almost dead but cost the same. Currently, there are about 20 chrysalises in four cages. When all the adult butterflies emerge, I’ll pack up the cages.
My home-grown milkweed is doing well. Hopefully, I won’t need to purchase commercial ones next year.
My monarch raising season is almost over this year. I made a few recordings of the different stages. I want to show you two of them. If you don’t want to spend 14 minutes watching them, you could fast forward.
We all have our beautiful butterflies within us, you and me!
The year 2021 was my first year raising monarch butterflies. In fact, I started planting seeds in 2020. Milkweed dies in the winter and comes back in spring. When the spring of 2021 rolled around, some milkweed came back. I found many caterpillars on the plants. Several caterpillars died because I left them on the plants and didn’t know what happened to them. I dug up some milkweed and put them in a-gallon pots. I went through many ways to secure them. Eventually, I bought two cages and raised 12 butterflies.
I have some milkweed from last year that died in winter and just came back in the early spring this year. One female monarch came back from the south earlier than I expected. When I watered the Milkweed, I found five caterpillars within a few days.
I wouldn’t have enough plants to feed them. It takes about one 1-gallon plant to feed two caterpillars. I bought four 1-gallon plants at Armstrong Nursery. Even though I only have five caterpillars, and I may have more later in the summer, the Milkweed will be gone in a few weeks.
I set up the two cages. Young caterpillars are escapers. They run away from the plant constantly. I didn’t want to keep watching to rescue them. To keep them from crawling out to fall to the bottom of the pot, I made a net with mash to pin it from the edge of the pot to the four walls of the cage. It was easier for me to see the caterpillars when they ran away from the plant. I could pick them up and put them back on the plant.
The caterpillars cling to the milkweed during the last week of the growing state when they are getting big and hungry. They’d keep eating until time to pupate. They crawl up to the top of the cage and find a secure spot to spin the silk mat from which they hang upside down by their last pair of prolegs.
Using my experience last year, I clipped some rubber coating wires to make an arc across the top of the cage and stick one piece of wire from the pot to the top of the cage. Some caterpillars crawled up from the wire in the middle and some crawled up from the side of the cage.
It takes about two weeks for the adult butterfly to emerge. Right before emerging, the black and orange colors are clear in the pupa. After the adult butterfly emerges, it hangs on the shell until the wings are strong enough to fly.
Monarchs do not mate until they are three to eight days old. Females lay eggs immediately after their first mating. Adults in summer generations live from two to five weeks.
Each year, the last generation of monarchs has an additional job. They migrate to overwintering grounds, either in central Mexico for eastern monarchs or in California for western monarchs. Here they spend the winter clustered in trees until weather and temperature conditions allow them to return to their breeding grounds. These adults can live up to nine months.
I bought two butterfly cages, used the first one for the first seven caterpillars and the second one for the next collection of ten caterpillars. I put potted milkweed in the cages to feed them. The caterpillar takes 9 to 14 days from the egg to pupate.
When the first caterpillar in Cage #1 circled around the edge of the pot, I thought it tried to escape. I put it back on the plant several times. I realized it was looking for a spot to pupate. I cut a piece of thin bamboo to connect from the soil to the top. It took no time for the little guy to find the bamboo to crawl up. It stayed in one spot but kept moving around for a day. Finally, it settled at a spot close to the wire that shapes the cage.
Is the mesh too soft, and it didn’t feel safe? I found a piece of heavier mesh to make a cage top. The rest of the caterpillars seems to like it and settled quicker to pupate.
Just before it pupates, the caterpillar spins a silk mat from which it hangs upside down by its last pair of prolegs. As it sheds its skin for the last time, the caterpillar stabs a stem into the silk mat to hang.
The second cage had about ten caterpillars. I didn’t have enough milkweed to feed them. It takes about two 4-inch pots of milkweed to feed one caterpillar. All my young plants combined would feed two. This is my first year raising butterflies and didn’t want to leave the caterpillars to die. After checking on the options, I bought one 1-gallon and three 4-inch pots of milkweed available at a nearby nursery. I transplanted them into one pot to feed the little guys.
The first week of the caterpillars was like a one-year-old baby who just learned to walk and disappeared constantly. By the second week, they get fat with darker colors. During the last few days before pupating, they cling on to the plant, munching ferociously, which reminded me of the children’s book, The Hungry Caterpillar.
I went to visit my granddaughters on June 16. The second day after I arrived, the first butterfly emerged. My husband sent me a photo. It was exciting to see the first butterfly made its way through the journey. After arriving home on June 22, I witnessed the rest of the chrysalides turned into beautiful butterflies.
The first flights of the monarch. They landed on somewhere for a few seconds before taking off.
I now understand the reason only 2% of the caterpillars made it to become butterflies. They can perish at any stage during the four stages: egg, caterpillar, chrysalis, and butterfly.
Eggs and Caterpillar: Can disappear or die.
Chrysalis: Four chrysalides seemed to be too small for the wings to grow inside and died.
Adult Butterfly: One butterfly almost didn’t make it because after it emerged, the wings couldn’t extend all the way when they opened. It continued to practice and crawled up and up the cage for 24 hours instead of a few hours. It finally flew away.
I examined my photos, it seemed I raised more male than female butterflies. Male butterfly has black dots on the hind wings whereas the female has thicker black veins. The following photos: the first one is a female and the second one is a male.
As I was writing this article on my front porch, there were two butterflies fluttering up and down and around visiting the flowers in the front yard.
There have been excitements every day since I discovered the monarch caterpillars nine days ago. It felt like I just adopted new pets and learned how to care for them. Checking on the caterpillars and collecting babies became my new morning routine.
As soon as I discovered the baby creatures, I went around the fourteen milkweed plants to find caterpillars and eggs, stuck the popsicle sticks next to the plants and marked the number of babies or eggs on each plant.
The next day after the discovery, one bigger caterpillar, hung crisscross on a leaf, died. The biggest one about 1/2” long was missing. I could only think of the birds, lizards, or other insects just had a delightful meal.
My research showed only 2% of the caterpillars in the wild made it into butterflies. The 98% vanished by the harsh nature. One way to save some caterpillars is to raise them in the butterfly cages. One website recommended separating the bigger caterpillars from the babies because the bigger ones may eat the babies.
There are different types and sizes of butterfly cages. Sellers ask for different prices on the same sizes of the cages. It seems to be reasonable to have two cages, so I ordered two of the 15”x15”x36” white cages on Amazon and would like to have them as soon as possible. My husband has Prime Membership for the next-day delivery, so I asked him to order them for me.
Guess what? It was Memorial Day weekend. The delivery was on the following Tuesday, June 2, four days after the order. I couldn’t leave the babies out in the open for the birds or lizards to snap them. In fact, I saw two babies dropped on the soil crawling away.
It was Friday afternoon. I rushed to the fabric section in Walmart and got one yard of white mash. Then I transplanted one milkweed from the ground to the pot, collected all the baby caterpillars, put them in the potted plant and wrapped the pot with the white mash. I got the idea from watching the YouTube on how to make an easy home-made butterfly cage.
After that, I watched how the bigger and smaller caterpillars settled in the wrapped plant. To my horror, I saw one bigger caterpillar with a baby in its mouth! Good thing one website forewarned me. I went to Walmart and got another yard of white mash, repeated the transplanting and transferring to separate the bigger and littler ones. I wished to say to the bigger guy, “Be nice to your baby sister!”
It was a lot of work that day, but I slept better knowing the caterpillars were safe.
The cages arrived on June 2, and I wasted no time to move the two pots of milkweed into the new homes. The pots looked small in the roomy cages. It would have been okay, except the caterpillars were continually crawling. One website calls them escapers. The next day, several of them escaped from the plants and dropped to the bottoms of the cages.
I remembered the butterfly kit with the caterpillars in a sealed container. To contain those wigglers, I inserted several letter-size transparencies into the soil around the edge of the 6” pot to form a shield. Yet there was another problem again. The shield was like a tube, and several wigglers crawled up. They could crawl out and fall again.
Oh, no! More work! I put the crawlers into a container with a lid, transplanted the milkweed into a 5-gallon pot and built a large shield around it.
There is no guarantee to protect all the caterpillars. There are seven bigger ones in one cage and about ten babies in another cage. It takes 10 to 14 days for the caterpillars to become full grown, about 2 3/8” long. A monarch caterpillar sheds its skin five times during the larval stage. Similar to the way a snake sheds its skin when its body has outgrown the skin. When the caterpillar is full grown, it sheds its skin one last time to form the chrysalis, or cocoon, and go into the pupa stage of metamorphosis.
I learned a lot about how to care for the monarch caterpillars. In the meantime, I’ll grow more Narrowleaf milkweed and will be more prepared next summer when the monarch butterflies return. I had one Showy milkweed. The babies munched on that plant the first few days have lighter colors and grow slower. The rest of the caterpillars were eggs on the Narrowleaf milkweed and ate only from Narrowleaf milkweed. They are healthier and have brighter colors. I put the cut Showy milkweed leaves in the pots, but the caterpillars don’t munch on them. So, I’ll stick with growing only Narrowleaf milkweed.
Please stay tuned for the monarch journey in my garden.