a few weeks ago the milkweed plants in my yard were filled with monarch butterfly larvae and I wanted to follow the metamorphosis and share it with my readers.
It turned out that there were five parts total and I though I would collect them all in one post for ease of viewing. Below is the five part series as well as links to the original posts. Enjoy!
Milkweed (Asclepias species) of which there are over20 different varieties across the US, is the host plant of the Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus). We are always pleased that the Monarchs visit and lay their eggs here! Some years we’ve been able to watch the entire process unfold from eggs to pupal stage and finally butterfly.
The common Milkweed is the singular place a Monarch butterfly will lay her eggs. This is no shock to those of us who enjoy Milkweed plants. Either for their tasty cauliflower like buds or the strong cordage its fiber is capable of being turned into or the heavenly scent of the flowers in the summer night air. Monarch butterflies will however sip nectar from other plants, but the larvae will eat only Milkweed.
Monarchs are well known for their lengthy migrations. However they are not the only butterflies that do so. Painted Ladies, Mourning Cloak, and Common Buckeyes as well as others butterflies migrate also.
Most Monarchs have a life cycle of about 6 to 8 weeks. However, the Monarchs that overwinter/migrate to Mexico and Southern California live for 4 to 5 months. There are no end of wonderful Monarch sites available for more information, but I’ve found that Monarch Butterly USA is a very nice resource and you can visit them for more detailed information. Meantime, don’t kill the Milkweed the Monarch larvae are hungry
These communal feeders, the aptly named Milkweed Tussock Moth Larvae were clamoring for a milky bite too. The thing about feeding on milkweed is that the caterpillars become toxic to birds (if a bird were bird-brained enough to chomp down on a critter clearly displaying the DON’T EAT ME colors of orange and black trouble would ensue). If the bird did not spit out or regurgitate a milkweed fed larvae it would likely die of heart failure.
In another few days the Monarch larvae should begin to form their chrysalis’ and pupate. I hope to catch a few hanging here and there to share with you.
I stuck my snout in one of the lilies the other day for a nice full whiff of that tantalizing scent. About half the day went by and I’d been on a few errands. Then my daughter came home and immediately shrieked, “Mama, what the heck is on your face?” I startled and thought there was a bug on me. Turns out I’d been walking around all day with a kind of war-paint look unbeknownst to me. Wondered why the postman looked at me funny?! The pollen from the lilies goes on very easy but does not come off without soap and water.
I have multiple patches of lilies and I like this one the best. The white and the stargazers mix it up well I think…no need to cut them at all they are a standing bouquet!
The rains have arrived. Much needed for certain, although we just pulled the garlic and would prefer it not get rained on. Looks like the next two days will be dry so we can bundle the garlic and hang it to cure! And….lots of basil too….pesto on this weeks menu! What’s on the menu at your place? How are you using the bounty of the season? Your thoughts are always appreciated.
Well, I did it…I broke my own rule…(not to interfere with nature) but hey, I did it for you!! Actually the intrusion is minimal in the extreme, and in the end the butterfly will float off into the great wide world. I brought in one monarch larvae and it’s been happily munching milkweed til last night when it began to do this:
If you look very closely at the right side of jar you can see the silk that is being woven across the top to secure the chrysalis. As of this morning there is not much more in the way of full ‘cocooning’ happening. I’ve looked around outside and haven’t found any ‘in the wild’ yet either. Stay tuned!
“Animal larvae eventually undergo metamorphosis, a resurgence of development that transforms the animal into a sexually mature adult” –Biology, – Campbell
So there you have it from one of my favorite texts a simple sentence that lays it out far better than I could have. My little charge has encased itself in a full cocoon now and hangs in waiting. While I was outside yesterday I saw this on the underside of the peony though:
A ‘wild’ larvae beginning the process of metamorphosis. This morning I went out to see the progress that was made and found a full cocoon already formed and also hanging in wait. I now have two wee charges to monitor, although they will be re-’born’ a few days apart. This process can take up to two weeks. I’ll have to pay close attention since one of the main signs is the change of color of the chrysalis from jade green with golden specks to darker brown or orange-ish.
Here are the two side by side, on left is the peony cocoon on right is the mason jar.
I’m pretty excited to have these two side by side comparisons. At the very least I’ll be able to watch two Monarch butterflies begin their journey. It turns out that Monarch larvae do not set their cocoons on the milkweed plant and you can see why…there’s nothing left! Monarch larvae are capable of eating their weight in a day while growing and molting prior to pupating.
“After several molts, the larva encases itself in a cocoon and becomes a pupa. Within the pupa, the larval tissues are broken down and the adult is built by the division and differentiation of cells that were quiescent in the larva. Finally, the adult emerges from the cocoon…” – Biology, Campbell What Campbell is saying here is that the larva does not turn into a butterfly in some kind of ‘transformer’ type way…more to the point the larva utterly turns to mush, primordial soup so to speak, and from that genetic material the butterfly is constructed. Is it any wonder the metamorphic process is such a common theme is spiritual circles? How many people are really ready for that kind of change?! Am I willing to give up everything known and be turned to genetic soup in the Vita-Mix of life to awaken to transformation?!
I can hardly wait
Imagine my surprise when I returned from the library to find my wee charge had released herself from the cocoon? (I actually do not know if it is he or she, but somehow I felt she-ish about this one.) Well that is exactly what happened! In the photo above, you can see the wings are still not fully dry and in fact, I was quick to place the butterfly outside hanging upside down so she could finish pumping her wings and getting ready for flight. I’ve been waiting and watching all day, but alas, I missed the big moment! I read that they usually emerge in the morning, so I had anticipated it would happen very early tomorrow…wrong.
I placed the butterfly on the peony (which still has another cocoon yet to emerge) but then the butterfly crawled onto the jewel weed next door and seemed very content there.
I sat and watched and waited until I had to leave for a meeting. Drat! I did not get to see my little one fly off into the great wide world. However, I was at a meeting with the college that my daughter will be attending this fall (all thirteen years of her)…so I was assisting a flight of a different sort you may say.
Here’s looking at you. I was fascinated by all the ‘eye spots’ in the head area. The actual eye has no white, but what a confusing bunch of ‘eyes’ for predators to contend with…if they are goofy enough to go for these colors in the first place. But oh how amazing the adaptations are!
As if the Monarch was not sufficient, the abundant universe saw fit that a Spicebush Swallowtail should float by and sip some clover. What a day! I hope you enjoyed this little series that unfolded here in the backyard and kitchen. There is magic and wonder all around us…we just need to slow down and observe it. I hope you find some magic in your day today.