Eggs! April 19, 2017, Asheville, NC

Friends — Before I give you the exciting new from my Milkweed patch, I’d like to invite you to a slide show I’m giving next Friday April 28 from 2-3 pm at Pack Library. It’s part of the library’s “Getting to Know Asheville” series. My topic:

“English Ivy Kills Trees! Milkweed Feeds Caterpillars! And The Botanical Gardens at Asheville Rocks!” Click here for more details. I’ll hand out free Common Milkweed (Ascelpias syriaca) seeds and have the FANTASTIC Milkweed, Monarch and More field guides by Rea, Overhauser, and Quinn for sale to benefit the Gardens.

What’s shakin’ Monarch Lovers? Here in Asheville, the Monarchs have arrived.

On April 11, Lee Buckner, my brother-in-law, texted me a picture of his Common Milkweed (Ascelpias syriaca). He’d noticed a Monarch flittering around the small Milkweed plants emerging from the ground around his yard. Lee said that after the Monarch left, he discovered that she had left a surprise: eggs! I hadn’t noticed any Monarchs in my own yard, but Lee’s discovery inspired me to weed my Mlkweed bed so that my Monarchs — if they found my yard — wouldn’t have any obstruction to the young Milkweed shoots popping up all over my Milkweed meadow.

On April 19, as I pulled up a hateful invasive honeysuckle vine, I noticed a flutter in my peripheral vision.

“Ohhhhhhhh, yeah, baby!” I ran into the house for my Papilio binoculars, camera, and husband, Ben. (P.S. Ben = he’s not just eye candy for nerd aficionados; he’s a first-rate Realtor and sponsor of this very website. Call him today for all your real estate needs.) Ben and I gave each other high-fives as we watched this raggedy, faded-out Monarch bop around the Milkweed patch:

April Monarch Butterfly

Ben went back inside, and I followed this incredible insect around the Milkweed patch. I gawked as I actually watched her lay an egg (a first-time experience for me). Later, I compared the picture of my Monarch to that of another one on the Monarch site Journey North, and I feel pretty confident that my visitor had traveled all the way from Mexico. She didn’t have the bright colors of a younger Monarch, and she had lost a bit of her left wing. If I’m correct, this Monarch left North America last fall and made the trip to its overwintering grounds in the Oyamel forests of Mexico. This overwintering generation can live up to eight months before a return trip north to lay eggs and then die. Here’s a look at one of her eggs:

Monarch egg on milkweed

Yes, it’s tiny! You can see why I need my Papilio binoculars. They’re like having a microscope in the field. My 49-year-old eyes cannot distinguish the ridges and details of a Monarch egg. With the naked eye, it’s easy to misidentify an egg with a dried droplet of Milkweed latex (the chemical goodie inside the plant). The Monarch Larva Monitoring Project has made a nice video to help us citizen scientists with our ID:

My raggedy little traveler laid her eggs and then flew off. Once she deposits all of her eggs, she will die. Then her children will fly north, find Milkweed, lay eggs, and die. This will happen for three or more generations as the Monarchs follow the Milkweed north, then start the trip down at the end summer. The Monarchs that reproduce over the summer months will only live two to five weeks. In late fall here in Asheville, N.C., adult Monarchs will lay the final generation of eggs — the ones that will grow into adults and make the 1,500+ mile migration back to the Oyamel forests in Mexico.

Little monarch

Each egg that I found only has a 3-10% chance of making it to adulthood in the wild.

I brought in 11 Monarch eggs on April 23, 2017
and have found five more since that day.

Flying monarch

Monarch eggs make a tasty treat for many creatures in the Monarch patch, including mites, spiders and ants. They can also become prey to parasitoid flies and wasps that lay an egg inside the Monarch egg or caterpillars. I want the eggs laid in my yard to beat the odds. So, I cut off the milkweed with eggs and placed them in a glass of water and put them in containers on my porch. Here’s a slide show of my set-up:

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Cutting the Milkweed will not hurt the remaining stem/root.


The Monarch eggs will hatch in three to 20 day depending on the weather.

I’ll keep you posted on the progress of my eggs in Facebook. In the meantime, the Monarch Watch blog offers nice reports from the top experts in the field of Monarch research. Finally, don’t forget to report any Monarch adult, egg, or caterpillar sightings to scientist via the Journey North Sighting Page. Cheers, Heather



About MonarchLover

Heather Rayburn is a native of Asheville, NC., and works at the Botanical Gardens at Asheville, a non-profit 10-acre public garden dedicated to the promotion of plants native to the Southern Appalachians. She has a B.A. from UNC-Asheville and a M.S. from the University of Tennessee, both in Mass Communication with a focus on environmental issues and social justice. She's also a dog lover and baker.

8 comments on “Eggs! April 19, 2017, Asheville, NC

  1. Hello Heather,

    This past spring I, too, was really excited to find eggs in my milkweed garden east of Asheville and then get a photo of a faded, travel-worn female laying eggs. At one point I counted something like 115 larvae. I brought in a couple dozen and released the ensuing adults, having lost a few to parasitic flies. (Also I gave some to my grandchildren.) I made some close up video of a larva transforming into a chrysalis and then later a chrysalis eclosing (You are helping me get the entomological vocab down) at my youtube channel, UniversalDirt. For a few days I watched males patrolling my property, sometimes fighting, and found one mating pair. Got some video of them. So far, no more eggs and larvae, but maybe I’ll find some like I did last fall, perhaps from the southward migration.

    Mickey Hunt

    • Just a follow-up to my earlier report. So far I have collected 15 early instar larvae since I saw the mating pair! No proof that the larvae are from the female, but it seems likely they are, since the milkweed I found them on is in the very near vicinity-like 100 feet away. And the pair may have been butterflies I raised and released. So these new larvae are sort of like grandchildren. Isn’t this what we hope for? A local breeding population, eventually self-maintaining.

  2. Wow! In the morning I’m going to check out our patch of butterfly weed, just beginning to show as that’s where the Monarchs came last year. Thanks for the heads up and congratulations!

  3. Milkweed from your garden is popping up in my garden right now. I am going out to see if there are any eggs on it. So excited. Thanks for writing this blog Heather!

  4. This is stupendous news! After last year’s depressingly low numbers, I am so pleased to know that you’re soon going to have monarch butterfly baby caterpillars!
    Thank you for your step-by-step picture tutorial on how to protect these precious eggs from being parasitized.
    Congratulations, Heather!

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