Freshly hatched adult monarch butterfly- third generation. Notice the fresh wings, pristine components. This poor fella was blown away from his chrysalis during a storm and we found him trying to stretch and get moving. We thought it was dead until I noticed how fresh and new he was. A stunningly and amazingly beautiful insect that needs to be put on the endangered species list.
Biggest monarch caterpillar I’ve ever seen. Big well-fed larvae turn into huge healthy aggressive adult butterflies. Last year I planted ONE asclepias incarnata by the roadside sign, and that one plant seeded hundreds more. Its sunny and wet there, exactly what that plant needs to thrive. People driving by must think we dont care about how our nursery looks from the road (it looks a little weedy). Little do they know how many monarchs live and breed in that somewhat weedy-looking patch!
Monarchs also chomp on the seed pod sheath. Dunno why, but there is probably a great scientific reason why, knowing the mysterious monarchs… full of surprises!
Just-emerged monarch resting after hatching. This wanderer will fly 4,000 miles to Mexico. How do he know???
I do not know what kills them. It’s like losing a child when they turn to mush. When I can, I try to identify why.
I know from experience that monarchs never do this. I cut this one open, did an autopsy, and found this:
… little maggots of trachid flies. I now pull the caterpillars off the stock plants and place them on far-flung Asclepias plants that have popped up around the nursery. When target insects are clustered together, it makes it too easy for the pathogen population to find them. It’s TOTAL WARFARE!!!
One chrysalis proudly displayed for all to see took too long to hatch- two weeks. It took on a dark green color. So I ……….. zoomed in really close.
…and saw yet another pathogen I haven’t identified yet that had eaten the helpless guy as he was pupating. As if monarchs don’t have enough problems!!!! I’m gonna figure out how to produce the maximum monarchs on my property at home and at the nursery. Gotta work fast! Why, you ask?
It’s so sad that last year (2020), in California, they counted 1200 monarch butterflies in the entire state. What did the trump administration do? They refused to give the monarch butterflies protection when asked to do so (with the endangered species act) because it would anger his agricultural donors like the Koch industry. Endangered species protection would protect monarch environments from being filled in by developers and farmers and put tight controls on chemical usage in those same areas. Profits vs. the environment is a war that is unwinnable for non-humans.
Come to the nursery, I’ll give you seeds of milkweed to help them survive (but it’s going to take our government to step in with legal protection).
Sometimes in life when things “got you down,” something comes along to offer hope, and such was the case when I saw this chrysalis on a pot that used to be next to the block of Asclepias. I hurriedly moved the giant amsonia over to the firewood pile where I hoped the trachid flies wouldn’t find him/her.
This morning I checked and voila!!! Right on schedule:
Despite all the obstacles to survival, species strive for continuation.
Two hours later, I witnessed this for the very first time:
I saw him/her with a very swollen abdomen, pooping some brown liquid, awkwardly unfurling it’s wings.
I moved the little critter to a hydrangea plant so it could feel at home, and it wasn’t long before it took its first flight!!! This one is flying 3,500 miles to the mountains in Mexico where it over winters with what’s left of the monarch population.
Post script: 10-12-21:
11pm last night a friend who I gave five caterpillars to sent me this video of a newly pupating fourth generation monarch who had JUST converted from a caterpillar to a new chrysalis. This is a very rare seldom seen phenomenon: