Monarchs, Murder, and Milkweed

This is a bit out of order with the other posts since I’m already at my second chrysalis, and raising three new caterpillars that MomBert insisted that I take from her milkweed which was covered in wasps. Yes, wasps will snack on chubby, slow caterpillars.

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Chrysalis 2: Those are not light reflections. The chrysalis actually has metallic gold dots and a gold line at the top. So pretty.

This summer I purposefully planted four butterfly gardens at points in the front and back yards. I grabbed seed packets marketed for that purpose then mixed in sunflowers, dill and curled parsley for the swallowtails, and added varieties of milkweed and swamp milkweed in hopes of attracting monarchs.

Typically, I see a ton of swallowtail butterflies and find their caterpillars munching away in groups on the dill and parsley.

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Swallowtails: egg to butterfly

However, the few swallowtail caterpillars I found disappeared quickly. I wasn’t sure why, but leaned towards placing blame on the influx of praying mantis. This was their summer! Usually it’s a treat when I find just one adult mantis every few weeks, but this summer babies were popping up everywhere on a daily basis, including my “pet” mantis who grew with the same sunflower for almost two weeks.

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I had a very minimal hope that any monarch caterpillars would show up and survive the possible praying mantis murder plots. The monarch butterflies passed through sampling the coneflowers, and butterfly bushes, but that seemed to be the extent of their visits.

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Understandably, I was amazed when I found the first monarch caterpillar about two weeks into August. I was crouched down weeding by one of the milkweeds and realized that I was eye level with a distinctive pair of “horns.” I made the same noise that I would have coming face to face with a snake or a giant spider…but the happy version.

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That is its skin in the bottom right. The swallowtails eat their sheds for protein, but apparently monarchs are too good for that.

I whipped off the gardening gloves and ran in the house for my camera and max lens. Who has a hundred pictures of the same caterpillar? This girl!

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Sadly our relationship was short lived. I absolve the praying mantis community of any wrong doing because now I blame STINKBUGS!

The very next day, I went out to check on the caterpillar, and found it being shanked by a stinkbug! It turns out that one of the smelliest, most annoying bugs is also aggressive! It was stabbing my poor little ‘pillar, and literally evacuated it’s stinky bowels while I watched. Somebody got squished right after these pictures.

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Murder!

I was sad over a caterpillar. Ridiculous! All I wanted to do was try to help the monarch population and that little guy or gal had been my only candidate.

Striped surprises were to come. A few days later I found almost a dozen caterpillars of varying sizes on my largest swamp milkweed plant. However the number changed from day to day. Had they moved on? Were they eaten? I had no idea, but started investigating what I would need for an indoor habitat.

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I had mixed feelings about bringing some of the caterpillars indoors. I wanted to help, but did not want to be responsible for any deaths. So I started with only three who were all the same little sliver in size. One wasn’t even showing its stripes, and another had only one set of horns. Unfortunately, one of the three did not keep up with the growth of the others and  appeared to have some physical issues, passing away after the other two had grown to almost three inches and had gone into chrysalis. Articles said to expect some fatalities. Hopefully things will go better with the remaining residents. I should have my first butterflies towards the end of next week.

10 thoughts on “Monarchs, Murder, and Milkweed

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