The Monarch butterfly caterpillar is a picky eater. Only Milkweed leaves will do for these children. This makes them wonderfully easy to sneak up on in the wild. Normally by early September I would expect the babies to be eating milkweed like the hungry mofos Eric Carle claimed them to be. I have been biking around my rural/increasingly McMansioned neck of the woods and examining leaves and I have found many things. Milkweed is a very beautiful and sometimes creepy microhabitat with a LOT of critters using it as a centerpiece for their livelihoods. But I haven’t found any Monarchs.
Here a gorgeous Milkweed seedpod has split neatly open along its seam, revealing the prettily packed seeds each with a tuft of threads attached to help the wind carry it to a new home. You can also see one that hasn’t fully “ripened” yet.
Here are the seeds emerging!
Out of concern about the lack of Monarchs I am trying to follow the Monarch Watch’s suggestion to protect and increase Milkweed plant numbers. I “planted” some seeds in what seemed a popular spot with weeds near the old orchard. I put some other seeds in the refrigerator. In this particular fridge they will be in good company, alongside some friendly Pawpaw seeds. These are native plants, they expect some seasons. Just like me they will be confused and disoriented if transplanted to the Mild Coast. They want a little winter before they are willing to really make themselves vulnerable and sprout. To grow them yourself from seed you have to trick them, like many a youth, with a little enforced chill out time.
Milkweed has a very distinct growth pattern, making it easy to spot even from a car or bicycle (I advise against texting and plant identifying while driving though). It comes up with its leaves neatly folded along the stem. They open out in pairs, and each pair is at a neat right angle from the pair below it. It can get quite tall when left alone in its preferred sunny spots often at field edges.
Milkweed is a perennial, meaning that it stays in the same spot year after year. It falls down and most of the new growth dies, but the same individual comes back.
The first thing I saw a month or so ago when flipping a freshly chewed leaf over was about 20 weird creepy hairy caterpillars all clustered together under one leaf. I was appalled and no I will not show you the picture. Someone else told me about finding the same ones on the Milkweed in their yard. Today I saw more of them in an entirely different location. I have seen a lot of milkweed in my life and never noticed these before. It turns out that they are the Milkweed Tussock Moth caterpillar and they are described as Very Hungry in the Who’s Who Milkweed Neighborhood Directory, although there seemed to be plenty of yummy leaves yet to go ’round, so it doesn’t really explain the Monarch’s absence. I assume they are another native species. I also saw a Milkweed Bug, a bunch of spiders, a weird cricket, a grasshopper, certain leaves coated with little yellow Aphids, and some Ants hanging out with the Aphids. And of course the gorgeous seed pods.
But where the Monarchs at?!?!