Tuesday, June 19, 2018

First Monarch Caterpillar

Becky first spotted this young caterpillar three days ago.  Their appearance seems unusually early this year. Usually it is the second week in July before the first caterpillar is spotted.   It has been more than six weeks since our last frost and that may be the defining number.  The flower buds remain tightly closed but the caterpillar feeds only on the leaves.  Lush soft new growth is widely available inside of the stone square that anchors our garden and we will remain watchful looking for other future butterflies.

It might seem to be a strong contradiction to encourage milkweed to grow in our planting beds.  Its horizontal root runs for far more than one foot several inches below the surface of our finely prepared planting soil.  Any attempt to remove milkweed results in a broken piece of root in hand and the certainty that the plant will return.  In this picture milkweed is growing among Black Eyed Susans.  Since both are native meadow plants this might be seen as a natural planting in one corner of our garden.  Oriental lilies, Daylilies and tomato plants reveal the intended function of this ground but we benefit greatly from all of these plants.

The stone wall defines one corner of our center square.  The Pinxter and neighboring but hidden Cardinal Flower plants are the intended growth here.  Some ferns came along when the Pinxter was moved from the woods.  The milkweed is self planted and the pictured caterpillar feeds close by.

Becky thought that she saw a Monarch several days ago.  These beautiful insects move about quickly and the slightest breeze moves them out of sight before a certain identification can be made.  I also saw a female as she darted from leaf to leaf after depositing a single egg on the underside of each leaf.

The butterflies that complete the fall migration hatch out closer to September.  It seems unlikely that our first caterpillar will survive long enough to make that trip.  Instead it will likely play a part in the creation of the fall eggs.  We will keep our eyes open looking for the first chrysalis of the current cycle.  Tremendous satisfaction follows our plants playing a part in the life cycle of this threatened beautiful butterfly. 

1 comment:

Beth at PlantPostings said...

Well, that is very exciting! It looks like it will form its chrysalis soon! I have four in chrysalides and 10 new first instar caterpillars--all were "rescued" from my milkweed plants. I didn't rescue all the eggs I found, because raising caterpillars gets very busy and they're so hungry at the end! But it's fun to watch some of them up close and personal. I've had some lay eggs on the buds and I've actually seen caterpillars eating the buds. Anyway, it's wonderful that you're including milkweeds in your garden. Enjoy your monarch observations!