This Cat Has Nine Lives

Maybe not nine, but this cat,

…has at least two or three.  This poor guy. He’s munching along, minding his own business, eating because that’s what he does and plop, he somehow ends up on the floor. I found him, dazed and confused, when I came home. No photo of that as I was scrambling to gently, very gently, pick him up and settle him back on the milkweed buffet.

I set about my own projects and responsibilities and later checked again and…EEK!!! He’s fallen into the water where the milkweed stems rest. Again, no photo of him floating, but I quickly dumped the water out, set him on a paper towel and gently, oh so gently, began prodding him and blowing air on him to dry him out. I have no idea if this is what you do to a drowning caterpillar, but it feels right.  At least, it’s something I can do because  I know I can’t perform mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Gross.

To prevent any more accidental dips in the reservoir, I added a paper towel protective layer to the top of the jar, poked the stems of milkweed through and resettled the last three caterpillars, including Mr. Nine Lives Cat.

He was a little pokey to recover, but recover he did, gobbling up milkweed a short time later.  Here he is (the darker one) sharing stems with the other, who is also close to pupating. I wonder if the darker coloring is a response to his near-drowning experience?  Probably not and I think his color was a little different before he decided to go for a swim, but there’s definitely a color differential between these two. Also, Mr. Nine Lives Cat also only has two, rather than the normal three, sets of antennae.  I don’t know about this guy–marching to a different drummer?.  Is that acceptable in the Lepidoptera larval world?

For the first part of the weekend, I watched him crawl around the top of the window,

…finally realizing that indeed, he’s not ready to change his caterpillar wardrobe for those of his winged self.  Honestly, he just seemed befuddled–like he’d lost his milkweed way. Saturday night I scooped him up and placed him back on the milkweed where he set about his eating routine.

Meanwhile Saturday night into Sunday, the other caterpillar began its morph, forming into the ‘J’.

Fortuitously, during a brief Sunday afternoon Monarch check, I  came upon a chrysalis-in-the-making.

IMGP2804.newI stood there, stupidly transfixed, before I collected myself enough to grab the camera for some shots, because the last morph doesn’t last long.  And it didn’t.

Within a minute or so, the action was over.  You can see the difference between a newly formed pupa and one that is


I’ve no idea what Mr. Nine Lives Cat is doing.  Still hanging around and not yet pupating.


This little caterpillar died. Over the last few days, he stopped eating and succumb…to whatever caterpillars succumb to.  He’s the second of the nine larvae to die.


This chrysalis has some kind of glitch.  Do you see the black spot?

It also appears to have sustained a little tear as well.  I don’t know whether I bumped it or if something else occurred, but it’ll be interesting to observe any anomalies in its butterfly evolution.

This chrysalis (to the left) was the first to pupate and is darkening, which means that the butterfly is in its last developmental stages and it’s a matter of day(s) before emergence.

At least I hope that’s what the darkening means.

Our weather forecast is conducive to butterfly release over the next week or so.  Next stop?  Butterflies!

13 thoughts on “This Cat Has Nine Lives

  1. If anybody ever says a word to me about how something is as boring as watching caterpillars pupate, I’ll know they are talking through their hat. This is riveting adventure – and all on the windowsill of a vacated boy’s room. I realize you debated the merits of taking these cats into your home, but otherwise, how would you ever have been able to notice all these fascinating details and deviations? Or share them with us?

    I’m happy for you, for the caterpillars and for the warm weather to (hopefully) release them into. I’ve kept an eye on my trop milkweed plants – no action here…still – but there are blooms and seed pods and leaves yet, so your baby monarchs will have something in our area to munch on as they pack up for their trip to Mexico. Olé!


  2. I like that, “riveting adventure”! Having these morphing guests is a little like air travel: lots of time just sitting and waiting, punctuated by immediate, frantic scrambling of some sort, followed by more sitting and waiting. I’ll be sure to suggest to “my” monarchs to stop by your place as they head south–maybe next week? Keep an eye out for them!


  3. This is really fascinating. And it is horrible but true that these changes are delicate — so many things can go wrong that it makes me even more thankful for the happy endings.


    • It’s remarkable how anything progresses and matures, given the obstacles. I think Mr. Nine Lives isn’t going to make it. He’s sort of hanging off of a branch, not in J position. Bummer.

      On the up side, I think I may have a monarch butterfly in the morning, so that’s something to look forward to!


  4. This is so exciting watching the day by day progress. Now you’ ve got me worried about Mr. Nine Lives. I hope he will be alright. I ‘ m looking forward to seeing your first butterfly.


    • It is exciting and I think the butterfly will emerge tomorrow, certainly no later than Wednesday. Unfortunately, Mr. Nine Lives is looking peeky–I’m not holding much hope for him. But, he has surprised me before….


  5. Oh dear…I haven’t been raising cats for more than a few years, but I have seen the dark and the dark cat was ill. Having the dark spots on the pupa is not good either. This is nothing you have done wrong, but I think …let me check with my butterfly mentor…Michelle


    • Hi Tina..I feel awful about this because I know how excited I am about raising monarchs and how sad I am when something goes wrong. And there is a lot that can go wrong. I think the black cat and the black pupa have either a bacterial infection (Black death) or OE which is another kind of infection. I learned the hard way to keep the cats separately so that if one does become ill, they may not all get it, but in the case of OE, the Mother carries it.

      I raise mine in Gladware containers separately with tiny holes or a mesh over the top to keep them from escaping. It is very hard to keep everything clean and I can give you more infor, but I actually wash my hands in between every cat and the containers have to be keep dry and clean.

      I am waiting for someone from Monarch Watch to get back to me as I cropped and sent them your photo. You can look up Monarch Watch online. My friend Mona has a private Facebook page for people raising butterflies and moths at…

      Here is information on illness in cats… OE

      Illness I feel so awful…… Michelle


      • Well, thanks for the info. I’ve emailed monarchwatch, but never heard back from them. I guess my view is that whatever happens, happens. I wasn’t sure they would survive (in the long run) outdoors, so I brought them in. I’m familiar with OE, though I’ve not hear of Black Death.

        I’ll keep you and other readers apprised of the progress, or not.


      • Mona thinks the dark pupa may have a parasitic fly in it. If you see a bean type thing fall out., Freeze it before throwing it out. You were very kind for bringing them in. They can’t overwinter and this weather has been horrific as I live near Buffalo NY… Michelle


      • We’re not quite as cold as Buffalo. Nevertheless, I almost prefer if they’re Queens. Maybe they’re not as sexy as Monarchs, but they’ll hang around here, nectaring on what’s available.

        And I will keep an eye on that pupa.


    • I’m sure they will, Beth. Except for Mr. Nine Lives (who I now realize, may be the only Monarch caterpillar) all look “healthy” and normal. It’s a matter of time–they’re all snug in their transformational cell, growing wings, etc. while we await their emergence.


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