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.