Sunday, June 19, 2011

Monarchs in the Garden

Monarchs in the garden
An authors’ most frequently asked questions is where do you get your ideas? It’s simple. The same place everyone else does. My recent inspiration came from my granddaughter when she brought home a monarch caterpillar from the State Fair. It was getting ready to spin its chrysalis. It was a fascinating process to watch. When we finally released the butterfly, I had tears in my eyes, like sending my child off to her first day of kindergarten. I was hooked.

So very tiny
I had already planted several varieties of milkweed in my garden to attract the butterflies -- that I already knew from my own childhood fascination with them.  Monarchs eat milkweed.  The first summer I planted the milkweed I counted over a dozen monarch caterpillars munching on my milkweed. They were big and easy to spot. Then they disappeared. I assumed they had found a branch somewhere to turn into a chrysalis and begin their transformation, but I could never find the little green pod they were supposed to turn into. I also found little monarch carcasses lying on milkweed leaves. The mortality rate seemed to be high.

4 days later
So I researched. I was amazed. Monarchs only lay their eggs on milkweed plants. The mortality rate is high. As much as I have always believed in letting nature take its course, it seems a monarch caterpillar has a much better chance of survival in a jar in my kitchen than it does in the wild.  So, I was prepared last spring to take some of the caterpillars in and watch them grow.

But there were no caterpillars.  Nada.  None.  It was
very disappointing as overall monarch populations are down.  Thankfully, this year I found at least a dozen little caterpillar eggs on my milkweed plants (yeah, I have become so obsessed, I can recognize butterfly eggs!) A few days later they hatched.  I was excited, but couldn't take any of them into the house as I was leaving on vacation.  They need a constant supply of fresh milkweed, so I had to leave them to nature.  When I got back, I could only find three, but oh my, how they've grown.

12 days later and still growing!

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