Sunday, September 11, 2011

Monarch Update

Monarch Chrysalis at
Naturally Native Nursery
The day after I reported the 5 Monarch caterpillars on our Butterflyweed, they started disappearing.  By the 2nd morning, I could only find three.  That afternoon, there were only two to see.  The next morning, there was one left.  And later in the day, none!  What happened?  I'd already been told these were 5th instar, meaning the caterpillars had already molted 4 times during their growth and were now ready to enter the chrysalis stage.  But certainly it couldn't happen this fast, right?  Reportedly, the caterpillars are foul tasting and therefore not prized food for birds and other would be predators. I looked all over for what I thought a chrysalis looked like.  No luck.  Demoralized I ran down to Naturally Native Nursery.  The previous week Jan Hunter had shown me some Monarch caterpillars that were getting to go into chrysalis.  I had to see what a Monarch chrysalis looked like.  What am I looking for?  She had put her caterpillars on small potted milkweed plants in a screened wooden cage.  Now there were about 10 cylinders about 2 inches long hanging by a small stem from the window screening at the top of the cage.  Well, that certainly helped because I wasn't looking for anything close to that.  I told her my fears, but she explained that most likely they did crawl off somewhere and go into their next phase.  But so fast?  A caterpillar in the morning and gone by noon?  She said they could make the transformation in about an hour.  Wow.  I had no idea it could happen so quickly. Well, back to my Monarch farm to look for the camouflaged green capsules hanging from the milkweed plant.  She quickly told me that she had never found a chrysalis in the wild when tracking the numerous caterpillars that munched their way through her milkweed.  They can crawl off the plant, up a tree, fence, or somewhere quite removed from the plant that gave them so much nourishment.  She often brings the caterpillars into her greenhouse where she can raise them to butterflies, tag them, record vital data, and then release them.  Nonetheless, I hurried back to our Monarch Farm to search.  No luck so far.  The Butterflyweed that they devoured is starting to grow back some small leaves to re energize the plant for next year's cycle.    I'd sure like to see the adult butterflies before they start their legendary journey to Mexico.  That's over 2,000 miles from northwest Ohio. They're going to need some serious energy boost.  Perhaps our Monarchs will stick around a little bit, gaining strength from the nectar of the various blooming native plants around the yard.
Recovering Munched Butterflyweed

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