Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Monarch Madness

A while back, I posted about finding two monarch caterpillars on the butterfly weed in our new prairie. I wasn't convinced that they were monarchs, because monarch caterpillars are supposed to be on milkweed! I decided to go ahead with our science experiment/miracle (while simultaneously saving our butterfly weed from utter decimation) and bring one inside. (The same one pictured in the previous post, actuall!) I brought in some "ditch milkweed" for it, and when it finished the sprig of butterfly weed we'd brought it in on, it grudgingly started in on the huge milkweed leaf. I could not believe how quickly it ate, or how much it pooped! I've never really thought about caterpillar poop, but for how much they eat, I understand. As soon as it "spun" it's chrysallis, I knew it was a monarch. Their chrysallis is like no other. In my research I learned that they don't actually spin a chrysallis, they just shed their last caterpillar skin and poof--there's the chrysallis. It's incredible. Later in the week, Beo pointed out some native red milkweed to me. It looks very different than what I traditionally think of as milkweed, but it also looked quite a bit like the butterfly weed. Beo did some research and found that sure enough, the plants are closely related and monarchs happily lay their eggs on butterfly weed. It took a little over a week, and the chrysallis turned clear, and then poof again--a butterfly! It really is a magical, amazing, awesome thing. When the monarch first emerges, it's instinct is to cling, and so Sprout and Bird got to experience the magic of having a monarch on their hands. It took it's first drink (while on Sprout's finger) from the big butterfly bush in our front yard. He eventually crawled on to the bush, and about an hour later we saw him take flight for the first time. Amazing, amazing. I can't even explain! We did the whole thing a second time with a second caterpillar. We had well over a dozen caterpillars on our native plants this year. In the weeks since, our butterfly bush, one of the last sources of nectar as fall comes on, has been alive with butterflies of all shapes and sizes. Today when I walked out there was a monarch clinging to a cluster of buds, and I smiled, knowing the likelihood that he went from egg to caterpillar to butterfly in our own yard. We've created a Magical Monarch Machine.

1 comment:

Lindsey said...

Beautiful, beautiful! I remember studying the life cycle of the monarch in grade school (which is odd, because I've never seen one in Western Oregon). It's still the butterfly I recognize most readily, and feel the most affection for.