Remember the milkweed plants that I mentioned were nearly as tall as me and growing by the door to enter our house? Well, they keep coming back. When we moved in 2015, my husband yanked them all out, and they came back in the spring of 2016. I decided to leave a few to grow for a little while, at least until they flowered, and then I would decide their fate. What I didn’t expect was that my husband would tell me one day that there were some caterpillars on the leaves. I rushed outside to see for myself, lifting up the leaves to see their undersides, and I was pleasantly surprised to see Monarch butterfly caterpillars!
Of course, I couldn’t resist finding a container to care for them. It was late August 2016 and there were mud wasps buzzing all over the place, with their tunnels under all the rocks near the entryway to our house. We eventually found something to take care of that problem, but in the meantime, I knew that they prey on Monarch caterpillars, so I had to ensure whatever I could find would survive and have a chance to make the long trek to Mexico.
Obviously, I was thrilled to see all 6 of my finds mature, pupate, and transform into beautiful Monarch butterflies (all males). Bear with me on the videos of the pupation. It was fuzzy at the beginning, but I was recording it through hazy plastic. I could only stop and start the recording again, and the second part below is much clearer. In fact, I was incredibly lucky to have caught the whole 2 minute process. Every other time I’ve tried to witness this, I’ve missed it, and only came on the scene when the green pupa was already formed but still wriggling.
The following summer, being this year (2017), I found more than 25 caterpillars over time. I had 22 at one time, and released them as they emerged from their chrysalises (or chrysalides), and I added a few more, totalling 25 in all. The mud wasps were back, which had to be dealt with. I couldn’t keep any more caterpillars, as I didn’t have room, so even though I kept finding more on the plants, I left them as a test and they disappeared. They became the breakfast of either the ants or the wasps, maybe even some spiders. But, I can claim to have promoted the population of Monarch butterflies, by my small part. My husband was starting to call me “Larvae Lady.” Oh boy.
I’m planning on harvesting some milkweed plant seeds this year, as soon as they are ready in their pods. After the frost, I will be able to attempt to make a successful milkweed garden on the side of the garage, so that I won’t need to keep the plants by the entryway to our house. The plants do get rather tired looking after they have finished flowering.
Hopefully, if the new plants come up, the Monarchs will find them, but we will see. I’d hate to remove plants that they “expect” to find when they return. Just how do they know? If any of the ones I released makes it to Mexico (for its first time), how is its great-great grand-butterfly supposed to find my garden (for its first time)? It is all certainly an incredible mystery.