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How I Rescued a Monarch to Be

Monarch caterpillar (or larva as some like to call it) September 25 8:30 AM Garland Texas

I almost titled this post “How to Rescue a Monarch”, but since this is a DIM (do it myself); I decided against that as someone might mistakenly believe I’m trying to pass myself off as a lepidopterist when in fact I only recently learned how to even pronounce the word, much less be one. [I’m serious—you try to say it aloud.]

When watering my front yard woodland garden to be, I spied a monarch caterpillar on one of the many tropical milkweeds in my front yard.  This is a special caterpillar.  It has the potential to be a fourth generation Monarch and thus is closely tied to the survival of this species.  Each year the Monarchs have four generations.  The first three generations only live a month to 8 weeks.  However, the fourth generation live from September/October when they eclose (hatch into butterflies) until March/April of the following spring when they mate and die.  It is this fourth generation that migrate to the highlands of central Mexico and live in the forest there until spring.  Then they begin the journey north, mating along the way.  Most of them only will make it to northern Mexico and southern Texas—but not before the females deposit their eggs on milkweed to begin the first generation of the new year.

 

WHY RESCUE MONARCH CATERPILLARS AND EGGS?

It is estimated that less than 5% of the Monarch eggs will ever make it to become a butterfly as they have many natural predators—from ants to lizards.  The good news is that caterpillars and eggs rescued and allowed to mature in a protected environment have a 95% survival rate.  

 

HERE’S HOW I DO IT.

 

1.  I grow lots of tropical milkweed in my front yard also with some other flowers too.  You only have to plant a few plants.  Tropical milkweed will reseed itself and you’ll have tropical milkweeds all over your yard.  [I realize there is a big hoopla about not using tropical milkweed.  There is some truth to that--if you live in south Texas and places where it never freezes. If you do have tropical milkweed in those southern zones of 9 and 10  you should cut it back to the ground in November.  However tropical milkweed is like a perennial that freezes out here in North Texas in November.  No Monarch is going to be staying around for that.  In fact, just about all of them are gone from North Texas by the end of October.  When the temperature is at 60 degrees F or below, most of them are not able to fly.  They know when it's time to leave the party in North Texas by the temperature.] 

Monarchs will only lay their eggs on a milkweed plant.  The same is true for 300 other species of butterflies called the Milkweed Butterflies.  That's why it's important for folks to plant a milkweed or two amongst their vegetables or other flowers each year.

 

2.  I transplant some of the tropical milkweed to pots to make it easy to move the plant into their hatching cages (mesh laundry baskets).  Thus, my yard has milkweed growing in pots and in the ground.

3.  When I spy a caterpillar on a leaf in my garden, I cut the stem about a foot down from the caterpillar, stick it in the soil of a potted milkweed, and put the plant and caterpillar into the laundry basket.

 

 

4.  As the last step I cover the opening in the basket with a towel.  This is to prevent the Monarch from flying about my house if it emerges when I’m not home.  Also the caterpillar will often attach its pupa to the underside of the towel. 

The Monarch will take an hour or two after coming out of the pupa (chrysalis) to fully dry its wings.  After that it will be ready for some nectar.  If you plan to be away from home for more than 24 hours and it is close to Butterfly time, be sure to leave a fresh pot of flowers in the laundry basket.

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METAMORPHOSIS FOR THE MONARCH BUTTERFLY

1. egg – 4 days to hatch  2. Larva (caterpillar) 9 to 14 days  3. Pupa 9-14 days (chrysalis) 4. Adult

This happens over 28 to 38 days.

I’ll watch the caterpillar.  This one looks like it’s about ready to pupate.    I ‘m guessing the Monarch will arrive between the 10th and 16th of October—just in time to start the journey south to Mexico.

Friday, September 25, 2015