The number of migrating monarchs has been declining at an alarming rate. Right now it is at a record low since scientists started documenting them. The monarch population has been dropping for a few reasons; widespread loss of the plant milkweed, which is the sole food source for the monarch caterpillars; changes in weather in North America and deforestation.
Along our road there is lots of milkweed plants growing. During the summer the county road crews mow down the weeds that grow along the edge of the road, including the milkweed. So every summer we go out and gather as many monarch caterpillars and eggs as we can. Last year we did not find any, but this year we did. :)
The tiny eggs are very hard to spot if you do not know what you are looking for. i was lucky enough to witness a monarch laying her eggs a few years ago, so i've been able to spot them easily ever since. They are typically white, but this one is just about to hatch so you can see the dark spot where his head is.
The newly hatched caterpillar is less than 1/8" long. The first thing it does after hatching is eat it's egg. It then begins eating the milkweed. Milkweed is the only food they eat.
We collected 10 caterpillars and eggs and set up a simple habitat for them in our laundry room. We used one of the insectlore butterfly garden enclosures and keep fresh milkweed in a vase of water, changing it out whenever necessary so the caterpillars have a constant source of fresh leaves. As the caterpillars grow they will shed their skin several times before they are fully grown and ready to pupate.
When the caterpillar is full grown it usually leaves the milkweed plant. It crawls off the milkweed until it finds a safe place to pupate. The caterpillar lays down a silk-like mat and then attaches itself to the mat. The caterpillar hangs upside down in a J-shape for about 24 hours.
The caterpillar then sheds his skin for the last time, exposing the chrysalis that is underneath. The new chrysalis is very soft at first, but hardens to create a protective shell. In 10-14 days the chrysalis will darken and the butterfly will emerge.
Right before the butterfly emerges you can begin to see the color and pattern of it's wings as the chrysalis becomes transparent.
When the new butterfly emerges it's wings are crumpled and wet. It will climb onto a branch and hang upside down letting it's wings straighten out and dry. On sunny days the wings will dry quickly, but when it is cool and overcast it can take a few hours before the butterfly is ready to be released.
Once the wings are fully dry we release them. We have released five this year, and have 4 in chrysalises waiting to emerge. i love watching our newly released monarchs fly away. They seem to dance in the air and spin circles around us before disappearing. These butterflies would not have survived if we had not collected them from the milkweed and provided a safe place for them to grow and pupate. Helping the monarchs on our road has become an annual activity for us, and we look forward to it every year.
What can you do to help the monarchs? Plant milkweed in your flower gardens! Although milkweed is considered a weed to many, it is an important food source for the monarchs. They can not survive without it. Increasing the amount of milkweed and native pollinator-friendly wildflowers and decreasing the amount of pesticide/herbicide use is a great way to help the butterflies.
i want to help you help the monarchs by hosting a milkweed seed giveaway! 5 winners!
One winner will receive a seed prize pack with milkweed seeds, cosmos, sunflower seeds, bachelor buttons and several other native wildflowers and nectar producing plants.
Four runner ups will receive a pack of milkweed seeds. US only.
To enter, fill out the rafflecopter form below. You may have to wait for it to load.