Another Week of the Monarch

He wants out!!

Well folks, just when we thought we had a handle on things, the caterpillars changed up on us.  The teenies are growing by leaps and bounds – called instars.  The chrysalis are bursting open with emerging GORGEOUS Monarch butterflies, and we get to release them – these really are exciting moments!  So far this week (8/26 to 8/31) we have released 8 butterflies: 5 females and 3 males (I will explain in another post how to tell the difference!).  We currently have 17 chrysalis, and a lost count on toddlers and juniors, I’m thinking around twenty-something.  AND we found 4 eggs on some milkweed leaves we brought in for the hungry guys.  Thank goodness the caterpillars aren’t carnivores!!

You may be asking yourself, “what do these people do with all of these caterpillars?”  Well, let me tell you….lol  We have 3, ten gallon fish tanks, and 1 cricket carrier.  The 3 tanks are designated for toddlers, juniors, and seniors.  The carrier is our nursery.  The Monarch caterpillar will shed it’s skin 5 times (called instars) during its growth cycle.  The nursery is for the eggs to hatch in (first instar).  The teenies will stay in there for about a week to ten days,  then they will be moved to the toddler tank.  The teenies will be in about their second or third instar by then.  The toddlers will move to the junior tank, about their fourth instar.  When the juniors get moved to the senior tank, they should be about to their fifth instar.

Teenies

The first instar is birth.  The emerging caterpillar is about 2/16″ long and is barely visible.  By the end of the first week of its life, it will measure about 1/4″ long and will have its stripes.  In just a few more days it will molt and be in 2nd instar.  It is ravenously hungry and needs more milkweed leaves!  By the time a caterpillar reaches its 5th instar it will have grown from about 2/16″ to anywhere from 2 to 3 inches and be as big around as a pencil or pinky finger.  Now that’s a lot of growing, which means that’s a lot of eating, which means that’s a lot of milkweed!  Now multiply that by however many caterpillars you might have……….

We thought we were ready for this year’s season of Monarch’s.  Mother Nature had other plans.  We have seen multiple butterflies, flitting around the gardens (certainly laying eggs everywhere).  With the growing caterpillars, we realized we were not going to have enough milkweed, so off to the garden center we go to buy more Milkweed plants – 19 to be exact.  I just finished getting them all planted yesterday.  I also decided to get the harvested milkweed seeds ready for early winter planting.  I’ll be posting about that pretty soon!

These really are milkweed plants!!!

Our Monarch backstory.

Some of you may be asking, “Why do you want to raise butterflies?”  Well this is the reason:  A little over a year ago, Kris and I went to a conservation seminar.  During the seminar the speaker talked about butterfly gardens, and other gardens in residential landscapes to help prevent water run off into storm drains, as well as the loss of soil by way of such run off.  It was a lightbulb moment for us as we were wanting to make changes to our own yard with the planting of new flowers and such.  So this became my summer project – to create a butterfly garden.  Being the type of person that I am, I just couldn’t wait and jumped right in.  I found the right space to put it and began digging away.  In about a week, I had my butterfly garden completed.  But what kind of butterflies did I want to visit my garden?  During my down time, I had read about how the Monarch butterflies were basically endangered. To save them we would need to raise them….and so it began!

Over the past 20 years or so, the Monarch butterfly population has diminished over 90% due to the loss of their habitat and food source – Milkweed.  Milkweed is just that – a weed.  Farmers were killing it, developers were removing it to put in parking lots, warehouses, subdivisions, etc.  With the loss of milkweed, migrating Monarchs to the north from Mexico had less habitat to lay their tiny eggs and those emerging caterpillars then had little or nothing to eat.  The survival of the Monarch butterfly was dependent upon the planting of milkweed.

Needless to say, our butterfly garden included 2 different varieties of Milkweed – Swamp weed and butterfly weed.  Thinking ahead, I also managed to plant flower varieties that adult Monarchs like to feast on for nourishment during flights to and from Mexico.  Because this was so late in the year (July) for gardens we did not think we would see any Monarch butterflies or caterpillars.  One day while I was out deadheading plants and watering in new ones, I saw the most beautiful black, yellow, and white striped caterpillar munching away on my milkweed.  I got very excited, took a picture of it, then ran inside to make a home for it.  Over the course of the summer of 2017 we managed to raise from caterpillar to butterfly, 6 Monarchs!  That might not sound like a lot (in the scheme of things what difference does 6 make?) but those six lay between 300 and 600 eggs, if they are female.  So I’ll take those 6!!  I thought to myself, “I know how to do this now, I’m prepared for next year!”   Suuuuure, I am.  🙂

Monarch Bonanza!!

Monarch eggs

This week (8/16 to 8/25) has been a Monarch bonanza!  We have had 8 Chrysalis formed; 2 eggs hatched; found and retrieved 27 eggs on Saturday; then 25 more eggs on Sunday.  We were lulled into a false sense of security because on Tuesday, fifteen of the eggs hatched!   You kind of lose count after a minute because those little “teenies” (as I like to call them when they are freshly hatched) like to scamper off in search of fresh leaves to eat.   We put them in the “nursery” until time to go to the toddler tank.  It got a little crowded in the nursery pretty quickly, but thank goodness they grow quickly!!

The greatest joy of the week was when we released a lady Monarch on the following Saturday.

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