Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Managing Monarchs

This spring we decided to do our bit towards helping Monarch butterflies. So we bought a milkweed plant and put it in our backyard. Nothing happened for ages but then, in October, we noticed a Monarch on the milkweed. A couple of weeks later we had a caterpillar, which first turned into a chrysalis (below) and then into a butterfly.

Well, that was easy, we thought.

November brought visits by a couple more Monarchs and suddenly we had 9 caterpillars. It didn't take them long to munch through all the leaves on our milkweed and so I rushed out and bought a second plant. A few days later both plants were virtually bare, while our caterpillar population had grown to 14. I rushed out again and bought two more milkweeds.

By now we were really excited at the prospect of helping 14 more Monarchs into the world.

Unfortunately, we then had several cold spells in a row. A couple of caterpillars died and rotted away. Seven more disappeared, presumably eaten by anoles or bugs. Only seven made it to the chrysalis stage, including one which opted to hang out on our prickly pear.

Later, one of the butterflies emerged from its chrysalis but wasn't able to unfold its wings.

By early January none of the other chrysalises had produced a butterfly. So in the end 15 caterpillars - and four milkweed plants - had produced just one Monarch butterfly. We were very disappointed.

However, we felt slightly better on Monday this week, after Dee noticed that a butterfly had emerged from the chrysalis attached to the prickly pair. The Monarch spent a while on the ground, unfolding its wings, and then off it went.



Dorothy Borders said...

Trying to help the Monarchs can be a frustrating process. I routinely see many more caterpillars than actually make it to adult-hood. But even if only one or two survive the perilous transition, that's one or two that otherwise wouldn't be here and that is a victory of sorts - a reason to continue to make the effort.

Jeff said...

I guess you're right. And maybe next year will be better.

Marilyn Kircus said...

I sometimes stay and garden with a friend in Galveston Texas. She has several milkweed plants and the are regularly eaten down by caterpillars. Most caterpillars are destined to be part of the food chain. I haven't head the odds but I'd you you had pretty good odds. You also helped some birds live. And my friend gets caterpillars almost every month of the year. I imagine this trend will continue northward in response to global warming. Those winter caterpillars usually don't get enough warm days in a row to make it.

You are doing a good thing successfully. Keep up the good work. You should soon see milkweed plants sprouting all over. Keep some and give the rest to friends and soon you'll have lots of monarch habitat.

Jeff said...

I hope you're right, Marilyn.