Taking a leaf from a sweet post of Rebecca’s Texas Garden, I am currently nannying Monarch caterpillars in my house. Monarch-sitting has its brief, dramatic moments, but most days pass without much but eating.
That’s how we grow, right? A Monarch will gain about 2000 times its birth weight before it begins the process of transforming into its adult self. And all that eating produces caterpillar poop, which polite people call frass.
I am keeping the frass tidied up. Sort of.
Continuing with this Lepidoptera saga of moving some milkweed with accompanying Monarch larvae into my son’s recently vacated room,
…there is action to report–Monarch goings on, if you will. A couple of the caterpillars were quite large, nearing pupation stage when I settled them from the garden. Within two days, the first monarch completed its 4th instar (molt of the exoskeleton) and he’d vacated the bunches of milkweed to find a place for the final transformation, the chrysalis. I realized there was one caterpillar missing and that he’d probably crawled away to pupate and I launched a search mission. I looked, knowing he hadn’t gone far, but I couldn’t find him. I counted and recounted caterpillars and was sure he wasn’t amongst the leaf chompers. He’d pupated, but where??
There he is!
When I was downloading photos for this post, I noticed in the photo below this first caterpillar crawling along the desk. He found the right spot on the statue of Buddha.
This guy was not far behind in the pupation process.
I observed his disembarkation from the milkweed buffet and for a few minutes, followed his wanderings as he was (I assumed) looking for the perfect place to pupate. He ended up here.
Approaching his last instar this Monarch larva formed into the signature “J” shape for at least twelve hours. I knew the “J” would become a bright green chrysalis sometime in the evening and I knew that the chrysalis transformation would happen in a short amount of time–minutes probably. I came home from an evening out, flipped the light on and observed this wet, glistening chrysalis in major Monarch writhing.
Moving like a green belly dancer, all sparkles and gyrations, the chrysalis was formed within a few minutes. Afterward, the chrysalis calmed, dried, and hardened. During the J process, he attached himself firmly to the corner of the window with a silk thread and there, will pupate until emergence.
I think the caterpillars that have pupated are all males. Looking at this excellent photo from monarchwatch.org, you can see the difference in a pupa between a female and male. In real-time with my chrysalides, neither my eyes, nor my photographic abilities match that photo, but since I can’t see the line that is indicative of a female, I’m guessing boys so far. I’ll know for sure once they are adults, because that’s much easier to discern.
The instar process has repeated for this one,
…and for this one.
I was keeping a keen eye on this guy, on and off, knowing the thing was going to happen. You can see the chrysalis green on the curve of the “J.
Notice the drops of liquid.
Drat! I missed it!
There are a couple of other caterpillars, still eating and growing. I expect the first adult to emerge late this coming weekend or early in the week.
There are those who would question the wisdom of my efforts. I question whether bringing them in was a wise move. Should the larvae have remained on the milkweed to either overwinter or die naturally? Should I even grow Tropical Milkweed in my gardens as it’s not native here in Austin? There is preliminary evidence that the overuse of Tropical Milkweed (which seems to be the most successful large-scale milkweed grown for the nursery trade) in well-meaning, but misguided efforts to help Monarchs, may be interfering with their migratory patterns and possibly causing some disease problems. All of this is valid and I was aware these issues when I clipped the milkweed with the attached caterpillars and brought them indoors. I now hold these late season larvae captive and they are growing to adulthood. The next decision I make will be whether to release them and hope they can live to a ripe old age, nectaring on what’s available. They probably can’t make it to Mexico, but I’m sure they’ll try. Or, to keep them captive, safe and well-fed until they die of old age after the 5 or 6 weeks of their lives.
I guess the takeaway here is: don’t mess with Mother Nature, there are always unintended consequences.