BUTTERFLY SITTING CEE’S CATERPILLARS

Post last updated: August 13th, 2018

I was planning a trip to Cee’s on July 2 to get a close-up shot of some baby monarch caterpillars. She called that morning to tell me she was running out of milkweed food for her monarch caterpillars.

She had purchased 27 milkweed plants since early spring at a cost of $4.49 to $4.99 per plant. Each 3-foot plant, when covered with mesh netting, will support only 3 to 4 caterpillars unless you put additional sprigs of milkweed in a floral water tube inside the netting.

Her caterpillars had mowed down almost every milkweed plant she had purchased. She was concerned that her husband was going to have a conniption fit if she wheeled into the big box store’s parking lot, yet again, for more milkweed. I could envision subversive tactics on her part. Like leaving the milkweed plants in the trunk of her car until he was in the shower, then sneaking the plants out to the patio and quickly netting them so he wouldn’t know.

I told her I would bring some milkweed and she suggested that I take some of the baby caterpillars home since I had three milkweed plants and she was planning a short trip. By the time I got to her house, she had also decided I should take a netted pot of milkweed with caterpillars that were almost out of food. You will recall from Hatching Monarchs, that I do not do worms. I am not encouraged that caterpillars are also called larvae. Thus, her suggestion caused a bug-eyed moment as I thought about all the things that could happen to these caterpillars inside my house because I have two felines, one of them a very curious Siamese. I also thought about trying to get them home inside my car without having an Alfred Hitchcock moment. I never agreed to take all these worms but, let’s face it, silence is acquiescence. In truth, I didn’t want Cee to think I was a wimp.

She had already hatched 32 monarchs since the season began and was well on her way to some of that big word stuff called expertise.

a few of Cee’s netted caterpillars on patio table

Cee provided me with supplies – rubber gloves, a floral water tube to hold fresh sprigs of milkweed, the mesh Cone Paint Strainer with elastic at one end (about $3 from Home Depot), a dollar store laundry hamper and metal stakes. She then told me how to take care of them. She then walked me out to the car with a container of babies and the netted pot of milkweed containing 5 caterpillars who would soon metamorphose into a chrysalis. I strapped that pot of milkweed into the seat belt with great care. No way was I taking a chance on it falling over and spilling worms inside my car. I think I managed to smile at Cee as I waved goodbye.

At home that afternoon, I conned Bubba into putting the babies on the outside milkweed plant. I plopped one of Cee’s laundry hampers over the plant and anchored it with rocks and metal stakes. For the indoor netted caterpillars who were out of food, I put a sprig of fresh milkweed in the glass floral water tube Cee gave me.

I put them on the dining room table because my two felines have been discouraged from getting on it. Every time I walked by the table, I had to count to make sure I had 5 caterpillars still inside the net. What if they gnawed their way through that netting and were out roaming around my house?

Fobbing off almost 10 worms on me was apparently successful enough that Cee began passing them out to co-workers so that she could make a trip to some northern-bound state where it is probably cooler than it is here. I can’t help but wonder how many of those co-workers screamed all the way home with a couple pots of worms strapped into THEIR passenger seat.

A lot of emails went back and forth as I tried to cope with having worms in my house and doing right by them, too. I also did a lot of research on my own. For instance, the caterpillars had an antenna at both the front and the back. I wondered about that. Research told me that the antennae are sensory organs for guiding the caterpillar to food because none of its six pairs of eyeballs are worth a flip. Interestingly, if you find a caterpillar with three antennae, that’s a Queen Butterfly which is more solid orange in color than the Monarch. They share an affinity for milkweed.

antennae at both ends of caterpillar

Within a few days, many of the caterpillars did not require much assistance from me. They had migrated to the top of the netted enclosure, prepared a silk pad on the mesh netting or the milkweed stalks, attached themselves to the silk pad and hung themselves in the “J position.”

monarch caterpillars in J position

Five days later, the adult caterpillars had formed a chrysalis and I was feeding only a sixth baby caterpillar that popped up out of nowhere. I began to calm down.

On July 12th, I started my morning with 2 black chrysalides. I knew hatching was imminent and fired off an email for help. Cee was in the process of trying to fly home but thanks to modern technology, she emailed me that they would hatch in a few hours and to leave the butterflies in the netted pot for 4 to 5 hours while their wings dried out.

dark chrysalis an hour before hatching

 

newly hatched monarch next to empty chrysalis

Both monarch butterflies were released in my backyard around 5 p.m. I have four remaining chrysalides in the house and at least two outside in the laundry hamper.

SATURDAY UPDATE 7/15/17

Around 9 a.m., I found last night’s dark chrysalis had just hatched because his wings were folded like they would have been inside the chrysalis. Huge abdomen and very small wings. He was so deformed I ran for my camera. By the time I got back, he was modestly hiding his huge abdomen. Cee caught a much better photo:
Photo by Cee
Within 10 minutes, the monarch releases his bottom wings and irons himself out. The “deformity” disappears.
By noon, another chrysalis had hatched.

20 thoughts on “BUTTERFLY SITTING CEE’S CATERPILLARS”

  1. The “worms” continue to multiply faster than my plants can regenerate. My daughter purchased 2 more milkweed plants while I was gone and I picked up 2 more today. I don’t think I’ll mention it to the Mr. I’ll probably need a few more.

    I have 3 cats netted on the white milkweed you picked up for me and they have just about picked it clean!

    You sure you don’t want a few more? Linda, my cats are desperate for food and you have all that milkweed. Think about it. 🙃

    1. Cee! I think you over-estimate the amount of milkweed I have on hand. Your worms nearly devoured the little 1 foot bush out front, 2 or 3 of them are in the process of devouring my yellow milkweed under your hamper. That leaves the white milkweed with two stalks. If I could find a cheaper source for milkweed, I’d entertain your hallucinations. You are a woman with a good heart to have hatched 76 monarch butterflies this season!

  2. OMG god this is so cool! I laughed my tookis off at you and your fears – so sorry. I so picture you as a strong independent no-nonsense kind of woman. You with hebegeebees over a worm is kinda funny. No, it is really funny. Anyway, back to the point – I love that you got to do this and shared it with us and photos, too. My goodness, I had no idea that monarchs had such voracious appetites. That is a lot of dedication, time, and money. Still, I’m thinking I would like to do this someday. The other thing is around here you don’t really see milkweed for sale – what is up with that? Now you can add butterfly sitter to your resume. xo kim

    1. Kimmie – I’m kinda depressed today. I’m officially old. I got my Medicare card in the mail and I realize my life has been reduced to Cat Butler and Worm Sitter. I truly admire Cee’s contribution to the butterfly world and, all kidding aside, I have enjoyed the up-close-and-personal view of everything nature goes through to produce a butterfly that lives only 2 months. Cee has spent over $100 this spring/summer on milkweed. If I had to do that, I’d be sharing Zorro and Whiskey’s cat food for dinner. Cee got over her queasiness with the worms by wearing rubber gloves but the gloves didn’t help me. You should have heard me gasp and back away when I found that first butterfly inside the netting. I AM a strong, independent, non-nonsense kind of woman, even around snakes, but worms are my undoing.

      1. Liar, Liar pants on fire. You are not strong around snakes, worms or lizards. Although I do give you credit for not being afraid of roaches, like me. Nice photos, so glad the worms morphed as they were supposed to without invading your house or your car.

  3. Sounds like another adventure in the life of one gardening friend. Linda, ever since I have known you, you have been on adventures. You are one spunky lady!!!

    1. Betty – Thank you for your vote of confidence — spunky. Most of my friends just call me crazy. I was even on that adventure that took 4 hours to get home from a memorial because three different women in the car had different ideas on the route to take.

  4. I laughed and laughed at the image of your curious cats and your horror at the possibility they could escape into your house! But all the drama was worth it to get the amazing images of the chrysalis and the newborn butterfly with wet wings. Happy hatching to you and Cee.

  5. Fun, fantastic story. So now YOU are expert. I mean, you have been growing worms on your dining room table. You can’t get more expert than that. You must feel like a very proud mama, now that they have successfully metamorphosed into beautiful butterflies!

    1. Bwahahahahaha, Deb! An expert growing worms on the dining room table, indeed. I’ve got one left but he got knocked down from his silk pad so I don’t know if he’ll make it or not. Cee is adding my hatched butterflies to her count and she has 92 for this year.

  6. Here’s the truth. You faced your worm fear head-on and reared a monarch! (clapping loudly) there is no stopping you now!
    I’m very impressed that she has so many. I’m still waiting for ‘monarch season’ around here. I have an abundance of swallowtail caterpillars (also called cats!) right now.

    1. Blondie – Thanks for visiting even tho I haven’t been over to your blog lately. Where does the time GO? What are your swallowtail caterpillars ON? We might have that plant, too. Cee calls them “cats,” too, but if I do that I need to distinguish my felines from the caterpillars. Yes, I faced my fear but I nearly went into convulsions trying to pick up a caterpillar even with a disposable glove on my hand. Think I have a way to go… As of yesterday, Cee has hatched 93!!!

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