Sunday, July 30, 2017

The Return of the Monarch Butterflies

I've been on a "save the monarch" crusade since watching Flight of the Butterflies at the Carnegie Science Center years ago. I planted milkweed (the only food source for monarch butterfly caterpillars) everywhere it might possibly grow. The first summer (2014), I was rewarded with one caterpillar. We watched his movements as much as we could and assume he made it to Mexico with stories of our hospitality and superior host food offerings.

In July of 2015, we'd decided to bring any caterpillars we found inside to watch their metamorphosis up close. When an evening milkweed check revealed we'd been successfully chosen to gestate a new generation of butterflies, we sprang into action. Our next door neighbor hadn't lived next to us long when we went screaming through the yard. "We've got caterpillars. THIS IS NOT A DRILL."

I did stop to tell him this was normal behavior. For us. I think by now he's used to it.

It was monarch madness. That first night we found five and in the next two weeks we would stumble upon another eight. Twelve out of the thirteen caterpillars successfully transformed into butterflies at various times. Adult butterflies had to be let out while others were still in their chrysalises. Plus, I felt the need to count each caterpillar twenty times a day. They move around and there were thirteen! And the poop! Caterpillars make an unbelievable amount of poop.

It was too many caterpillars.

In the summer of 2016, overcrowding wasn't an issue. We didn't see a single monarch butterfly. No caterpillars. Nobody.

Not knowing what to expect as far as fluttering friends, I attempted to hedge my bets this season. I planted dill and fennel for the swallowtail butterflies. Swallowtails are pretty too. Maybe not as exciting, but better than nothing.

We call this fellow, Groundy. He made quick work of the dill meant for the
swallowtail butterflies. Thanks Groundy!

Over the past few weeks, we've been visited once again by multiple monarch butterflies. There haven't been great flocks of them, but every day one or two check out each patch of milkweed. They've been laying eggs. This is good because I don't think the swallowtails like my dill.

This week, we saw the first caterpillars of the summer. We brought two inside. Only two. Julia named them Jerry and Young Jerry. (We're reading A Tale of Two Cities.) Jerry and Young Jerry are able to produce as much poop as all thirteen 2015 butterflies did, but two is a much more manageable number. 

A mesh butterfly habitat looks great in any living room!

Our two monarchs are growing fast. We're able to keep a close eye on them. Eventually, we might even figure out which is Jerry and which is Young Jerry.

***If you're interested in helping Monarchs in your neighborhood, there are a lot of wonderful resources that will help you find plants and even places that mail free seeds. The Monarch Joint Venture has some information to get you started. Monarch Watch is also a great resource.***