Monarch Watch

Two monarch caterpillars on milkweed
Two monarch caterpillars on milkweed

The county mowed a field of milkweed a couple of weeks ago, just down the street from my house. I worried that it might mean I wouldn’t see as many monarch butterflies this summer. Milkweed is the only plant that monarch caterpillars can feed on. I decided to get some milkweed for my yard and see if that would help.

A day after I planted the milkweed, Bob reported to me that he had seen a monarch butterfly landing on one of the plants. I checked out the leaves, and found several tiny eggs on them. I took a couple of them inside to observe. Eventually, one of them hatched, and the monarch watch was a reality.

Now it’s been almost a week, and the catepillar that crawled out of an egg the size of a poppy seed is now ten times bigger than that. It’s munching a milkweed leaf that I harvested from one of my plants. Today, I checked out the plants, and found another little caterpillar. Rather than leave it where a bird or another insect might think it was a tasty treat, I brought him inside to be with the first caterpillar.

I have a plastic box with a vented lid that was designed to house hermit crabs. It turns out that it is a perfect place to raise monarchs. I know this because I raised two before, when I was taking a class from the Audubon Naturalist Society on the natural history of butterflies. The caterpillars ate their way through dozens of milkweed leaves, then crawled up to the roof of the box and turned into a pair of chrysalises. Later, when they became butterflies, I released them into my yard.

I hope I have the same happy ending to the caterpillars I have now.