Somehow we managed to end up with a baker's dozen of monarch caterpillars on our back porch the past few weeks. After years of occasionally looking at milkweed and wondering how other people managed to find monarch caterpillars, in recent years I've sometimes found one or two. I'd bring them home, put them in a quart jar with airholes, feed them milkweed leaves and watch with fascination the cycle of caterpillar into chrysalis into butterfly.
Last year I didn't see even one monarch butterfly, let alone any caterpillars. I heard that between overly cold weather where they overwinter in Mexico and the spraying of pesticides on milkweed near fields where they travel, their future is looking dicey.
So I was delighted to spot a couple of healthy looking caterpillars on milkweed along the millrace. I left the big ones to manage on their own, and brought the young one pictured below home. It went through several instars, the stages where the caterpillar sheds its skin, allowing it to keep growing, and eventually we found it hanging from the top of the jar, in the typical "J" shape that means it's about to form the chrysalis. Sure enough, soon there was the light green case with its gold trim, and it is still out on our back porch, with the hidden work of changing into a monarch butterfly.
In the meantime, as I brought in milkweed from our backyard for it to eat, I discovered another, larger caterpillar and then on a nearby small milkweed, four eggs. For a week, it seemed I could not bring in a milkweed leaf without discovering an egg or a newly hatched caterpillar. The count at the moment is nine chrysalis, one caterpillar hanging in a "J" and two caterpillars still chowing down on milkweed. The largest caterpillar went in to chrysalis a day or so after I brought it in, and emerged last Tuesday. I missed the emergence, but discovered it while its wings were drying. Unfortunately I had to leave for a meeting and so didn't see it take flight.
John and I did get to see several of the caterpillars enter the chrysalis stage, their caterpillar skins splitting, revealing the pale green shape underneath, gradually shrinking and hardening into the jade case. Fascinating -- as will be the emergence of a dozen butterflies in 10- 14 days. And then either this generation or the next will fly down to Michoacan, Mexico, spending the winter with millions of other monarchs there. Amazing!
My approach to contemplative photography --
Tell about it."
Mary Oliver in "Sometimes"