It’s May 1, and today we counted a record number of 25 caterpillars, all munching away on our half dozen or so milkweed plants. Well, two are not munching away because they are in the J phase so they stop eating before turning within a day into a chrysalis.
It may help that we’re also tamping down the predator population with our new anti-wasp technique — grab the emergency butterfly net, snag the wasp, give it a stomp. Too bad we can’t love all insects equally, but being Monarch supporters we are unapologetically partisan. Wasps are not the only bad guys, but they are plentiful right now so we are being vigilant.
With so many caterpillars feasting at once, some are running into each other. Fortunately we have plenty of leaves, no problem. These two ended up on the same leaf. I call this image Little Buddy.
Here is our first new monarch of March 2019. It is one of eight chrysalides we expect to emerge in coming days, our record at any one time for the five years we’ve been involved in butterfly gardening. The reason for so many successful formations of chrysalides may be related to unusually frequent rains in recent weeks. We wonder if constant rain kept predators at bay. Look for more posts, now that our spring visitors are active and seven more butterfies-in-waiting are dangling on bars of wooden trellises and expected to emerge soon. We even have one chrysalis protected inside a net enclosure inside our house (why we took this step, and the outcome, will be the topic of a future post)
It is a chilly noon on Christmas Eve. Why is this caterpillar munching milkweed at the top of a branch in full sun? Unlike in the summertime when sun threatens to overheat a monarch caterpillar so they scurry to the shade of a shelter plant — here we are at the winter solstice when Sol is farther from Earth. Our caterpillars eagerly dine exposed, even at noon. These cats might be migrants from the midwest, for whom low-60 degrees is balmy. They remind me of human snowbirds who, visiting California in December, revel in lunching at a patio table when we West Coast residents prefer to hunker down indoors. This plump cat was having such a good time on a cool day with an alfresco lunch that it had to twist around the leaves at the top of the branch in order to stay attached while enjoying second helpings. It’s big but still kind of wrinkly, so probably this one has an additional phase or Instar before it forms a chrysalis.
Happy to be hatched in California, where milkweed grows year-round, this chubby Monarch cat feasted on a milkweed pod last month while his People (that’s us) were feasting inside on Thanksgiving duck.
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 seems 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.