Summertime is Monarch Butterfly Time

Rita schory's picture

Hello, everyone!

How is everyone's summer going?  There's only a month and a half to go until school starts back up again.  It's crazy to think about.  What is your favorite summer activity? Please comment below and let me know!  This is what I've been doing with my summer... 

...Since 2014 (I think), I have been raising monarch caterpillars in my house.  Or maybe 2015??  I can't remember now.  Anyhow... for some people, bugs and insects are not their favorite subject in the world so they don't really understand why I care so much about caterpillars (which are really just fancy looking worms that eat leaves), or why I take time out of my day to go outside and look for these little bugs while dealing with whatever surprises are also on the leaves.  There are a lot of creatures that like milkweed (the plant monarchs are especially drawn to), such as: ants, earwigs, certain types of beetles, spiders, and another type of caterpillar called the milkweed tussock moth caterpillar.    They tend to come around in late July/early August, and they arrive in clumps.  They're not harmful, but there's just so many of them it can be gross to someone who has never seen anything like it before (someone who doesn't normally look underneath leaves for caterpillars or someone like me who got grossed out by them a couple of years ago).  Anyhow... if you happen to have some milkweed in your backyard and you happen to find a monarch caterpillar (will have white, yellow, green and black stripes on its back), you can either leave it alone or bring it in your house to look after it.  The best thing to do is find the egg and bring it in, but most of the time they look like little white specks and can be very difficult to identify.  If you do choose to bring the little guy inside the house, there are a few things you need to know:

[First of all.... the reason why I am so passionate about this particular species of butterfly is that thanks to Monsanto and Round up, this beautiful butterfly species is endangered.  There used to be millions upon millions of monarch butterflies migrating back and forth from America to Mexico every year, but in the past few years, they've almost been wiped out.  I experienced this firsthand the first year I raised them.  My mom is a reporter and she knew this woman who spent hours searching for these guys in farmer fields.  She went on vacation and suddenly we acquired 28 of her butterflies.  To say it ended badly is the understatement of the year. The only butterflies that actually made it that we got to release were the 5 of our own that we found.  Her cats either didn't complete the transformation from larvae to chrysalis, and the few that did either died within 24 hours or were too weak to hang onto their chrysalis so they fell to the floor and their wings crumpled.  It was the worst experience of my life.  We did manage to keep 1 butterfly alive for 2 weeks by continuing to feed it (my philosophy was that as long as it was alive, I would feed it because I refused to kill it by starving it), but he never flew.  All milkweed leaves you bring in for them to feed needs to be rinsed and dried off.  You can leave them on the leaf they're on, but make sure to clean any new leaves because they can have other insects on them that might eat them or give them parasites.  We bring them into the house so they will be protected from these harmful predators, so cleaning is a must.

Second, they will climb to the side or the top of their enclosure at least 5 times before hanging upside down and transforming.  It is VERY important not to move them, as they are molting.  They will stay still for 24-48 hours and not eat anything.  Yes, I promise you that as long as they aren't turning musky or black, they are very much alive.  Also... they tend to congregate if there's a whole bunch of them and if there's not enough food for them, they will eat each other.  It's best to keep the bigger cats separated from the smaller ones so that no accidents happen.  They are aware of each other but their first priority is food and if there's a tiny cat on a leaf a big cat is eating, it will chomp right through the little guy.  I have my bigger cats in a popup habitat and my littler ones in an old aquarium tank.  They'll get moved to the popup once they're not in danger of getting eaten by accident.  

Lastly, pay attention to their coloring.  We have a variety of colors because some we found in the shade and some we found in direct sunlight.  Their colors should be vivid.  If they look to be turning completely white or completely black and a part of them is pooched out or sunken in, it means there's something wrong with them and they will probably not make their transformation or if they do, they won't get to fly.  Either keep these guys separated or euthenize them (but please look to Google first to see what's normal and what isn't before making any final decisions!!).  It sounds terrible, but it keeps them from laying eggs with the same disease in them and keeps from contaminating the healthy ones.  And remember to keep them in natural sunlight.  They seem to do everything by first light: wake up in the morning, eat, even transform.  They will transform in the middle of the night but it's less common.  Okay... back to the story]...

...Luckily, we never had to experience that again. Last year, we found and released 10 monarch butterflies.  This year (since Friday) we have found 18 caterpillars and more eggs we're waiting on to see if they will hatch.  It was a slow start, and I almost didn't think we'd find any, but there has been a female monarch floating around from milkweed leaf to milkweed leaf every day for the past few weeks.  I'm not going to say it most definitely IS one of the ones we released last year, but they usually come back to their home base because they feel safe there.  So, it might just be one of our girls.  

The most important thing that I have learned during this process is to expect not everyone to make it.  It's sad but, it's nature.  And... I know I'm weird.  I am fully aware that I am too attached to a fancy looking worm that eats leaves.  But I also think that it's part of being in the Pagan community.  We all celebrate nature.  We understand better than most people that nature is not something to be conquered.  It's not something to be separated from.  Just because we live in houses in the suburbs doesn't mean we're not in nature.  Nature is all around us.  It's the sunshine shining on us, it's the water we drink, it's the food we eat, it's the grass and dirt, it's the trees, and yes, it's even the bugs.  Without bugs and insects, we wouldn't have nature.  We wouldn't have food for birds, we wouldn't have fertilizer for trees.  And without trees, we wouldn't have air.  Monarchs are responsible for pollinating the flowers which gives us food for our nesting songbirds and our breathtaking landscape.  So... thank you for taking the time to read this.  And if you happen to find a monarch caterpillar, please comment below and let me know what happens.  And if I can offer any advice, I will!!

And yes... I will be updating throughout the summer with monarch reports.  If you'd like to see daily photos/videos, please feel free to follow me on Instagram if you're not already (azureebluedaisy).

Blessed be!!