This handsome fellow landed on the lantana ths week, after torrential rains and cold weather. The same day we saw three fat caterpillars seemed to suddenly appear, munching away in the sunlight. Where were they hiding when they were small? Probably under milkweed leaves, protecting themselves during the back-to-back-to back downpours. This is one of three siblings, each one pudgy and nearly ready to form a chrysalis.
We have had mixed success with our cats and Monarchs. Our giant crop of 8 active cats are now all dead or out flying around, about half and half.
We are doing the best we can against the Tachinid flies without using insecticides. We’ve had a few straight forward successful launches, several dead on arrival or severely mal-formed plus one heroic recovery whose story follows below.
On my watch a Monarch emerged that had trouble with the wing inflation/deflation/drying process so I set up a chair under the car port to watch over the little lady while she struggled to get airborne. When she fell to the ground and could not get her wings to work I’d gently tease her onto my finger tip and put her on a flower cluster hoping that nectar would help her avoid dehydration until she could recover the proper form and begin her departure sequence. She had one partial success flying about 2 feet with her wings nearly touching the pavement. When she stalled again I tried to get her onto a flower but that produced only falls to the pavement.
Phase 2: I wanted to keep her hydrated so I put her in the puddler (damp sand) and hoped she’d get some fluid intake in the 90 degree heat. I left her in the puddler and went inside.
Phase 3: I went out to check on her and she was in the coils of a garden hose on the ground. When I approached her to put her back in the puddler she took off and flew up into the pomegranate tree where she rested for a while and departed on her mission to find a fertile male monarch.
That’s all I could do and I’m pleased and proud that our brave lady has a chance to contribute to the Monarch Tribe.
These two cats ate every leaf on the milkweed working up from the bottom. They will actually do some head butting if there is a contest over a browsing spot or if one blocks the path of another. It seem to me they have very poor eyesight and do most of their activities by “touchy-feely” methods.
All at once, it seems, our recent baby boom of sixteen Monarch caterpillars has finished fattening up on milkweed, and now about half a dozen have headed for different places to form a chrysalis.
Two are snugged up and forming into Monarch butterflies, and one has just arrived to do the same.
One, so far, is on a trellis; one chose a spot behind the downspout, and several are in the process of attaching themselves to a little ledge on a brick pillar–which seems to be the favored place.
We more than doubled our milkweeds (now 40 plants) and added a half dozen Lantana bushes for shelter and general nectar source. Our habitat is certified by the National Wildlife Federation. We had to add a “puddler” that provides fresh water to butterflies that will not approach open water. The puddler provides moist sand for the butterflies to “drink” (i.e., absorb) with their proboscis. A Monarch will not go near open water. Our nectar sources earned us registration as a “Wildlife Habitat” by the Xerces Society (google them). Xerces is devoted to important invertebrates that serve as pollinators.
Newly emerged monarch (after her wings have unfolded)
Our latest “child” left its sanctuary this week. It did a few trial flights, each time landing in our back yard. The last time we looked it had “flown the coop” and is off looking for a male Monarch. I hope it took in some nectar before it left. Although we watched it on and off for hours we did not see it take any nectar.
Note the empty chrysalis. It is amazing that the Monarch, half the size of your open hand comes out of a chrysalis smaller than a sewing thimble.”
This cat climbed half way up a wall before settling under a window ledge for its chosen place to pupate.
Though we have seen dozens of caterpillars munching away in our milkweed garden, this was the first one to turn into a visible chyrsalis — we think others have discretely transformed and flown away. We didn’t know what to expect, but this bright green globe with its little gold spots was a marvel. Lately, toward the end of October, we have seen a half dozen. They seem to have taken over a telephone junction box as Caterpillar Hotel.
These hungry caterpillars met accidentally after dinner’s last course, meaning chomping down the remaining leaves at the top of a milkweed plant. They just turned around and headed down the stalk, searching for more.