Thursday, September 1, 2011


Last summer Grandma Sherry had an abundance of ornamental milkweed that she'd planted.  I don't know whether she intended to host monarch butterfly caterpillars, but that is indeed what she did.  By late summer multiple caterpillars seemed to be on every plant, and there were a lot of plants. Looking for the caterpillars was like looking for Easter eggs.  

Eventually the caterpillars disappeared, but were discovered as chrysalises hanging from the siding and soffit of her condo.  We were diligent as we watched day to day as the chrysalises changed from light green to translucent and the colorful wings could be seen as they matured.  And ultimately there came the bittersweet days as we watched the butterflies emerge, quickly dry their wings and fly off.

From, "The total time frame for one butterfly's life cycle (one generation) is about 6-8 weeks . . . egg, caterpillar, chrysalis, butterfly. It grows inside the egg for about 4 days. It then munches milkweed and grows as a monarch caterpillar (larvae) for about 2 more weeks. The caterpillar's life inside the chrysalis (pupa) lasts about 10 days and its wonderful life as an adult butterfly lasts from 2 - 6 weeks."

Early in the spring I purchased some milkweed seeds.  Around Mother's Day, when the chance of frost is said to be past, the kids cultivated the small dirt strip along my patio and planted the seeds.  As I sit here now, I count six plants.  Three are healthy, although no milk pods have appeared, one looks puny, and two are merely marking time until frost takes them.

Caterpillars - top middle and lower right
About a month ago, Sophia ran into the house to announce she'd found a caterpillar!  We went out together and found four.  In the next three days, they all disappeared, off to find a spot for their chrysalises.  

In fact, I watched one as it left the plant, crawled up the hibiscus planter and eventually disappeared into the shrub.  I presume all made their way to safety.

Last week I was sitting on the porch and saw a monarch butterfly hanging from the limb of a nearby plant, slowly opening and closing its wings.  I bent down, encouraged it to climb onto my finger, and moved it to the butterfly plant.  There it stayed, continuing to open and close its wings.  When I looked later in the evening it was gone.

Once again, this afternoon  I am sitting on the patio.  A few minutes ago I glanced at the largest of the plants and saw a new caterpillar. Closer inspection revealed a second, and both are about half the size of a mature caterpillar!  This is the third "crop" of caterpillars, and I am in awe at being able to witness the monarch's life cycle!

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