Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Fool With Mother Nature Fool

We are located near the northern limits of the Monarch Butterfly's natural range.  They come here to lay the eggs that will create the butterflies that will complete the migration flight to Mexico.  Milkweed is encouraged to grow here as a food source for the caterpillars.  Left to follow its natural cycle, milkweed flowers just after school is out for the summer.  That is about the time that the first Monarchs appear here.  They do feed on the milkweed flowers but they also feed on many other flowers.  It is the milkweed leaves that are critically important to the survival of the butterflies.    They, and their near relatives, are the only source of acceptable food for the caterpillars.  My concern has focused on the fact that the plants are nearly spent when the caterpillars need a food source.

My interference in the natural order is to mow several acres of former farm fields that now grow milkweed.  A mowing or two force the milkweed plants to start growing again.  This creates bright green young leaves suitable for caterpillar food.  We have seen female butterflies depositing their eggs on the underside of these new leaves.  This is a high point in our summer since we feel that we are helping this threatened species survive at least just a little longer.

A recent walk among the insects revealed this robust looking caterpillar feeding on an old tough nearly dead leaf.  It would appear that the normal order is working just fine without our help.  Reality aside, I will likely continue to mow the milkweed fields creating extensive stands of young plant growth.

This egg hatched in our garden.  Despite milkweed's extensive deep root system, we continue to allow far too many plants to claim parts of our garden beds.  Butterflies and their caterpillars add greatly to the events unfolding in our gardens.  Wire fence is hardly a natural site for the transformation from worm to butterfly to occur but that location is commonly used here.  A casual walk in the garden recently revealed a newly emerged butterfly drying its wings while clinging to a section of wire fence.

This chrysalis formed on a grass leaf.  We are working to clear our planting areas before the weeds drop their seed load.  This natural treasure went unnoticed until the leaf had been pulled.  Becky used her weaving skills to attach the leaf to a piece of wire fence.  Orange and black color patterns can be seen on the developing butterfly.  We hope to soon see this new butterfly fly free.  In this instance if the weed had simply been thrown on the compost pile the butterfly would probably have perished.  As far as mowing milkweed is concerned, our interference may not be necessary but we choose to think that the survival rate for caterpillars feeding on new leaves may be higher than those eating nearly dead leaves.

1 comment:

Indie said...

What a great idea to help the monarchs! I hadn't really thought that monarch caterpillars would not like the older leaves as much. I have seen so many more monarchs this year than the previous few years, which is so encouraging.