Monday, October 28, 2013

Milkweed butterfly

My daughter, Jennifer, introduced me to the wonderful world of the
Monarch butterfly
a few years ago, when she pointed out 
monarch caterpillars
devouring milkweed leaves in her garden.

Unlike Eric Carle's, The Very Hungry Caterpillar,
who eats a variety of foods,
the monarch larvae's sole food source is
milkweed leaves.

I soon added scarlet milkweed to my own garden, 
and started to watch
(to the amusement of my neighbors, I'm sure), 
for caterpillars.  I have not been disappointed.
Scelepias curvassica 'Butterfly Weed' Silky Formula Mix
Four different generations of butterflies each go through
4 stages during one year.
The four stages are
larvae (caterpillar)
pupa (chrysalis)
adult butterfly.

The first generation of eggs are laid on milkweed plants 
in February - March.
The second generation cycle begins 
in May - June.
The third generation hatches in
July - August.
And the fourth generation starts in
September - October.
The adult monarchs from the first three generations
only live for 2 to 6 weeks.
the lucky fourth generation butterflies
live for 6 - 8 months until the 4 cycle year 
begins once again.

I started out with 2 gallon-size milkweed plants in July, 2011.
I now have 50 plants of various size.
When a caterpillar hatches and begins eating the leaves,
soon all that's left is the stem, with a fat caterpillar hanging on it.

The poisonous chemicals in milkweed plants build up
inside the larvae and the adults, creating a defense against their predators.

The plants readily reseed.

It took a year of vigilance, but I have been rewarded with seeing
most of the stages of both the monarch and the milkweed.

Just this past September, this chrysalis was found.

I was thrilled to see this beautiful pupa, as
the caterpillars seem to just disappear once they are fat.
(At least, I haven't been able to find them.)
This one attached itself to a carpet sample, which had been used as a trunk protector.

The caterpillar is in the chrysalis for 10 days,
but I had no way of knowing how long ago this caterpillar became a chrysalis.
I missed the actual coming out,
but did see the adult fly away.

I'm still looking for unhatched eggs, and look forward to seeing a caterpillar
become a chrysalis and then see the emerging from the chrysalis.

Once a monarch butterfly is an adult, it can eat nectar from any flower or fruit.
Having milkweed plants and a butterfly bush in your garden brings a lot of 
nature to your yard.

I would be happy to share my newly sprouted milkweed plants with anyone who is 
interested in starting them in their garden.  Just let me know, if you would like a plant, and
I'll do my best to get one to you.

t.t.f.n. ~ Carol


  1. So fascinating! I wish I had a green thumb but unfortunately the milkweed would meet it's demise at the hand of this black thumb Gardner. Thanks for sharing as I really had no idea that their life span was short and what beautiful pictures that you captured throughout the cycles.. Loved it.