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.