It's getting to be that time of year again when I obsess about monarch butterflies. My last two butterflies, Garnish and McQueen, are long gone, and now a new generation is getting ready to start. This time I'm hoping to raise some from eggs. Here's what I have learned so far:
1. Don't take milkweed for granted. All the wild patches I have relied on for finding and feeding my caterpillars have been mowed down this year. Every single patch has fallen victim to one weed-whacker or another. I even thought of putting "please don't mow" signs on them, but I'm not ready to be that crazy butterfly lady yet. Fortunately I bought some milkweed plants from a mail-order nursery and I have my own safe supply in my backyard. And the butterflies have found them! I count at least 5 monarch eggs. I brought one of them inside to keep it safe from spiders.
2. If they do mow your favorite milkweed patch down, all is not necessarily lost. Milkweed never gives up. Most of my wild patches have been cut to ground level, and are already back up to 6 inches high or more. Yesterday I stopped by one, more or less out of habit, and guess what I found?
3. Want to spot a teeny, tiny, itty-bitty widdle caterpillar on milkweed? Look for a telltale u-shaped hole in the leaf. After a caterpillar hatches, it eats its egg case, then it starts on the leaf itself, eating as much of it as possible from a stationary position. So, yesterday when I saw the right sort of hole, my pulse quickened, and I flipped the leaf over. Sitting right there was a caterpillar almost too small to see. There's also another egg near the top of the leaf!