At the Botanical Gardens at Asheville where I work, we have seen few monarchs this year. Personally, I only found seven caterpillars despite putting on a massive Common Milkweed buffet for the monarch community:
Of the seven, four have made it to adulthood, including one two days ago. A tachinid fly parasitized one of the caterpillars, and one died shortly after I found it (cause unknown, very disheartening). I still have one on the porch still in a chrysalis, but this is awfully late for monarchs in Western North Carolina. The unseasonably warm weather seems to have resulted in late caterpillars. I had plenty of milkweed to see the caterpillars through, but my nectar plants have dwindled down in my yard — even the fall aster. So my baby needs to hurry it up in order to find nectar plants on its way to Mexico.
As I’ve said more than once on this website, monarch caterpillars only have a 3-10% chance making it to adulthood if left in the wild. Last year, I shared Common Milkweed seeds with my friends Christy and Steve, owners of Willow Spring Herb Farm. Milkweed pods produce a huge number of seeds, but we’ve noticed at the Botanical Gardens that they have a low germination rate. From the bag of seeds I gave them, Christy and Steve raised three plants and attracted a gorgeous monarch party:
With limited milkweed and a frenzy of caterpillars, Christy wondered if she would run out of food for these little milkweed munchers.
“What can I do if I run out of milkweed
for my caterpillars?”
- Someone told me recently that you can cut the milkweed at the ground and it will send up another fresh shoot. In this case, of course, you’ll need to have other milkweed plants for the caterpillars to feed on while waiting for the shoot to grow. [On a side note: Don’t worry if your milkweed doesn’t bloom — the caterpillars only need the leaves to survive. A new milkweed plant may take up to three years before it starts blooming.]
- Look for milkweed on rural roadsides. Be careful that you don’t get milkweed that has been sprayed with herbicides or insecticides.
- Buy some at a nursery (although, again, make sure they haven’t put chemicals on it and make sure it’s native to your area).
- If you don’t know a friend who can supply you with fresh milkweed, call your local Agriculture Extension office or place a posting on a local Facebook naturalist group.
In this post, I wanted to let you know about the product that I’ve switched to for raising monarch caterpillars on my porch. Last year, I began with a cardboard box, but it didn’t keep the caterpillars from roaming when time to pupate, plus I realized that the tachinid flies could slip into the screened-in porch when someone opened a door and could lay eggs on them. So, I transferred them into a gauzy pop-up laundry hamper. It kept them safe and enclosed, but it obscured my ability to properly gawk.
So this year, I switched to raising my caterpillars in lightweight plastic pet shop carriers, and I love them. They’re easy to keep clean and make viewing a pleasure:
The plastic boxes also travel well. Thursday, I took a chrysalis ready to eclose (i.e. emerge) to work. I missed the exact moment it came into the world but got some great pictures as it pumped its wings with abdominal fluid and grew larger and larger before my eyes.
Please plant some milkweed this fall. The monarchs need your help. In the meantime enjoy these pictures of Thursday’s butterfly event. — Cheers, Heather: