Room in the Inn! 28 Potential Monarchs to Date

Hello Friends — Thank you to everyone who attended my slideshow Friday at Pack Library. I promised one of the guests that I would talk to my boss at the Botanical Gardens and get the answer to her question on English Ivy removal on a large lot. I’ll post the answer to that later asap. In the meantime, exciting activity in the Milkweed patch:

So this is the first spring that I’ve had Monarch caterpillars. Don’t know why I haven’t noticed them before. Maybe the weather kept the Monarchs from drifting over my yard in the past or maybe I didn’t pay enough attention before. Whatever the case, I have gotten very lucky this spring. Since my last blog post, I’ve filled all three of my containers and pop-up hamper with Milkweed and Monarch caterpillars:

Caterpillar containers

Current Guest Count:

26 Monarch Caterpillars

 2 Monarch eggs

Last Friday, I came home from work to find a hatchling Monarch caterpillar so fresh that it hadn’t had time to eat it’s eggshell, something they normally do:

Talk about thrilled! All weekend I combed the Milkweed patch looking for more caterpillars. It’s a lot easier looking for caterpillars than looking for eggs. To spot them, look for a round cut-out in a Milkweed leaf. When I see one, I cross my fingers and look under the leaf hoping for treasure:

Top side of Milkweed Leaf

 Bottom side of Milkweed Leaf

Bam! Each discovery feels like hitting a gold strike. Before I start looking, I clip a stalk of Milkweed, pick all the critters off of it, give it a rinse, and put it in a glass of water (see last post for pictures). When I find a caterpillar, I just take the leaf; then, I use clean scissors to cut a small circle around the caterpillar. I don’t want to touch the caterpillar if I don’t have too. Why take a chance of damaging it? Instead, I place the small piece of leaf on my prepped Milkweed and put the whole thing in an enclosure to keep it safe from predators. I’ll put about two or three caterpillars on a nice big stalk.

Sometimes the Milkweed stalk wilts in the enclosure, so I immediately change it out if it gets wilty or stops looking robust in any way. I’ll gingerly transfer the caterpillars to the new stalk using the method described above. When I find an egg on a stalk in the garden, I clip the whole stalk and do my best to make sure to get all the other critters off the stalk before bringing it in.

But look how easy it is to miss a potential predator. I didn’t realize until I looked at this picture on my computer that I had brought in another bug with this caterpillar:

Fly? with caterpillar

I need to do some research to identify the hitchhiker. If it’s a parasitic fly, my hope is that it didn’t make it inside the enclosure since I only include the small bit of leaf that I cut around the caterpillar. But it’s a tiny thing that I totally missed! Here’s another example:

Leaf with bug

Caterpillar top left; unwanted hitchhiker bottom right from leaf:

unidentified bug on leaf

When I get a free minute, I’m going to use my “Milkweed Monarchs and More” field guide by Rea, Oberhauser, and Quinn, to try to ID these two hitchhikers. If you want your own copy, we now have them on sale at the Botanical Gardens at Asheville. Come see us!

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.

3 comments on “Room in the Inn! 28 Potential Monarchs to Date

  1. Hello Heather,
    I’m writing a small book “A Pictorial Guide to the Monarch Butterfly Migration over the Southernmost Blue Ridge Parkway, Fall 2017″” and would welcome your input or a critique ahead of publication, if you have the time. The book is 36 pages. I can e-mail you a flyer if you like. The book itself is still in draft form, but I’m 95% done. My “ready by” deadline is September 1, so I’m hurried and harried. Yesterday I received permission from the Xerces Society to use their North American migration route map*, so I’m excited about that almost too-late addition. Thanks for your consideration. I love your website and give it a little plug in the book. *(The map isn’t perfect, but it’s the best I could find.) -MH

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