When we last left our heroes they had just hatch on May 12. I was getting pretty worried because all the information on the internet said they should have hatched a lot sooner. I was certain I was a murderer, and I dreaded telling you all I had failed. But I didn’t! So bonus points for me!
After they had hatched I knew it was important to get them fresh leaves as soon as possible. As you can see in the picture above I picked only the best from the garden and very gently, and without touching them at all, moved them onto the fresh leaves. I figured they would stay in that container at least a week. Unfortunately they had other plans and instead made a run for it. Okay… new plan!
With the corner of a paper towel I was able to move them off the edge of the plastic container to a live milkweed plant in four inch pots. As you can see in the pictures below, those that had remained on leaves, I just cut as much of the leaf around the caterpillar as I could and put both the section of leaf and caterpillar on the plant. I just hope the ones that I had to move directly from the plastic container to the plant were not hurt.
May 17, 2022 – I haven’t really seen to much of caterpillars until today. Over the past few days I had wondered if they even survived. Thankfully a few days ago I noticed little black specks a few little holes in the leaves. YAY! That means they were eating and pooping. Poop is always a great sign.
I am having a bit of a freak out today though. I found quite a few baby caterpillars on the milkweed in the backyard Milkweed garden. Do I collect them and add them to the ones in the safety of the habitat or leave them be? 90% of all caterpillars fall victim to predators in the wild. OUCH! NOT MY BABIES!!! Hubby says let them be, and let nature take its course. I have no clue what I want to do. If you have any suggestions or opinions I would love to hear it.
May 24: I have quite a few regrets this week. The first was not grabbing the caterpillars that hatched out in the garden fast enough. I waited a few days pondering what I wanted to do, and decided to take your advise and grab them. Unfortunately when I finally did go to collect them, their numbers had dwindled considerably. About half of them had been nabbed by predators. DRAT!! I am heartbroken. Those that were left have been added to with the others in the habitat and are doing lovely now. They are growing fast and are all little piggies. Fortunately I had bought around 10 milkweed plants in four inch pots, so I can rotate them based on the caterpillars needs. I don’t bother to put them on the fresh plants. I just put the plants next to each other and let the leaves tangle with each other. The caterpillars have no trouble finding the new plants. Look at those piggies below!!
May 25: This morning I went out to check on the caterpillars and I got a bit of a shock. Eleven of them have climbed off the milkweed and are hanging out on the ceiling. They seem too small to be getting ready to go into the chrysalis form. I wonder if this is because they are the first of the season. Most of the plant stores in my area have said that they won’t get their Milkweed plants in for another month, and I have only seen one Monarch Butterfly, so I wonder if it’s just early in the season, and that is contributing to the smaller caterpillars. They may also just be going through a growth spurt and are walking it off. Only time will tell. Little weirdos.
May 26: I didn’t think I would be doing daily updates on these guys, but here we are again with the latest developments. So yesterday I was worried because eleven of the caterpillars all made a run for the ceiling. I thought for sure they were way too small to be getting ready to go into their chrysalis form. Well, I was right. They were actually just molting and moving on to the next stage of the cycle. Hopefully I am writing this properly, but there are five instar stages. They start as an egg. When they hatch they are now first instar, then in 1 to 3 days they will molt again, and then be second instar. It sounds weird saying it like that. Anywho… I think my babies are fourth instar at this point because they came out FAT last night. It was crazy. They went to the ceiling in the morning, stayed perfectly still all day. Then late in the afternoon they all raced back down to the milkweed and went all out PIGGY on the milkweed. I will definitely need to add a few more plants to the habitat to keep up with their appetite.
May 28: They have gone through all but one of the milkweeds that I have in containers. That’s ten plants total. YIKES! Thankfully I have a few plants in the garden that I can take clippings from. As you can see they are fat and happy, but also very very hungry! I am leaving for a three day trip today and I am worried that they will run out of food in those days. Thankfully the trip is five minutes down the road, so I can always sneak back to check on them.
May 30: This is my last milkweed plant in a pot. It will not be enough. I am really happy I could sneak back from our little camping trip at my friend’s house to check on them. Hubby said he will help me with a habitat for them in the garden where they will be protected from the preditors, but also have plenty of milkweed until they are ready for the next stage. I gotta come up with a new plan for the next round of Monarch eggs.
May 31: Sometimes the easiest solution is the best. Hubby suggested I just cut an opening in the bottom of the habitat and place it over one of the milkweeds in the garden. PERFECT!!! I was really feeling bad that they were so crowded. They never ran out of food, but I really underestimated how much I would need for them. Lesson learned! So here they are on the new plant. I am certain this will be plenty of food for them now. Thankfully if I am wrong, I have two other huge plants waiting for them. I have gone out a few times to check on them and they are acting ALL crazy. They are running all over the place, crawling up the walls, hanging from the ceiling, then jumping /falling down into the milkweed. I have never seen them act so wild and crazy. This is nuts.
June 2: Cutting a hole through the habitat and placing it over a Milkweed plant that is actually planted in the ground was a great idea. The 24+ Monarch caterpillars finally had plenty of food to get them to the last stage. It was weird though. When I first put them in, they were all over the place. All you saw was green grubs in stripped spandex munching away on the plant. CRAZY! Now? Now I only see a few crawling around. Two have gone into chrysalis form, and a few others are J hanging as you can see in the picture below. But… where are the rest? Did they get out? I kinda doubt that. I guess if they did, it wouldn’t be the end of the world since I want them out in the garden anyway. I don’t want to mess with the habitat too much, since they are just starting to J hang and I don’t want them to fall down.
June 4: I am very sad to say that I have lost three caterpillars to date. The three that you see hanging on the side in the pictures above were all lost. Two of them look like they overheated mid-change, and the third was not fully secured to the side of the habitat and fell after he had gone into chrysalis form. On a brighter note all the rest had chosen better spots on the plant and are now happy little chrysalisases.. HEH? Chrysali? You know what I’m saying. I guess I wont have too much to report on these guys for a while since the chrysalis stage is 8 to 14 days.
June 11: I certainly have been learning a lot about what not to do. Every step of the way seems like it was one wrong decision after another. Okay, the heat might be making me grumpy. I have been stressing out a lot about the monarchs in the habitat. They changed into their chrysalis form around June 4th and 5th. While it was great that they had plenty of food, they did not have enough room to change into their chrysalis form in a place that would allow them to emerge safely and spread their wings to dry. They were all smooshed together. Just a bad situation there, so they would have to be moved. After a bit of research I found that it would be safe to moved them a few days after they had become chrysalis. If you moved them right away you could smoosh them. Gross.
Since they could emerge anywhere from 8 to 14 days, I knew I had to move them soon because we were on day 7. So with scissors and a little paper towel lined box I headed out to the garden to harvest the little buggers. I only gathered a few at a time, so as not to traumatize myself too much. HA!
This was not exactly the easiest task. I had to be sure I got as much plant and web as I could, so I would have something to tie the string to. There is a little black stem on top of the chrysalis, but that is super tricky to get the string tight enough around to secure it enough. As you can see in the first picture below, there is plenty of leaf and web to work with. The second picture shows a chrysalis with just the stem. Every time I tried to tie a string to it, it slipped off. I ended up putting a little bit of glue on the tip to secure it better. At this point I do not know if it is a successful technique. I will know that answer when the butterfly emerges.
I attached and hung on a branch a total of 20 chrysalis. I had 24 caterpillars to start, two died from heat i think, one fell mid change, and one was smoosh when I was trying to move a plant out of the habitat. I felt horrible. Once they were all on the tree, I secured them closer to the branch with painters tape.
At this point I have learned a lot of lessons of what NOT to do. Basically it is that they need a lot of food right from the beginning, and they need space to form into a chrysalis. If you don’t give them this from the very beginning there will be a lot of uncertainly and trouble. Thankfully I already have a space in the garden with a lot of milkweed growing. I just need hubby to build the enclosure for me, so the next batch will be a lot easier and less hands on.
June 13: Can you believe this? After all the complaining I did about taking care of these caterpillars, I went out and bought ten more plants filled with Monarch eggs and caterpillars on them. WHAT?????
My last batch isn’t even done yet and I am starting all over again. Fortunately hubby built a huge butterfly habitat for me that goes over an existing raised flowerbed that has Milkweed growing in it already. He just finished the enclosure Sunday night, so I was able to transfer the plants with the precious cargo on them into the new location. There is plenty of milkweed for the caterpillars to chomp on, and plenty of space for them to hang from when they change into their chrysalis form. The structure is even tall enough for them when they emerge as butterflies and stretch out their wings! All I have to do is make sure the plants that are still in pots get watered. I am super excited to see how the new habitat works for them!!!!
June 14: I am super happy to announce that the first Monarch butterfly has emerged from her chrysalis.. AND SHE IS PERFECT!!!! I was worried about her because her chrysalis wasn’t looking all that great, but she seemed to have no issues once she was out and drying her wings. I was able to move her, without touching her wings at all, to the big habitat to fully dry. I would not have moved her normally, but it was windy and she was whipping around on her little string.
June 15. Four of the Monarch will be emerging today. I thought I wasn’t going to see it happen, but I was able to stay home. I stepped out for just a second and when I got back, one had emerged. I quickly got him/her to the big habitat and when I returned to the table two more emerged. I carefully got them into the habitat as well. When I got back to the table another popped out. MY GOSH!!!! They all look fantastic so far.
Aaaaannnnd a fifth one just popped out!!!!