So this is different.
It’s been cold here in the Chicago area. Well, cold in Chicago is not different, but a long string of days with highs in the 50’s in the middle of June as part of a long, cold early spring and summer is new in my experience.
The plant bloom time is lagging by at least two weeks. Flowers that for the last twenty years have bloomed in my yard in mid- to late May didn’t bloom until the 10th of June. Now my milkweed, which should be in full bloom, is nothing but masses of buds. As soon as we get a few warm days it is sure to burst forth, but that is not helping my Monarchs this week. I have nothing in my yard for them to eat. Milkweed, bergamot, cone flowers, all my standard go-to flowers for Monarch feeding are just leaves and buds.
An even bigger challenge for the Monarchs is that it is simply too cold for them to fly. Monarchs are cold-blooded. They have no way to regulate their internal body temperature and depend on the ambient air temperature and the sun to warm them. It has to be at least 60 degrees for them to be able to move enough to take flight. If I take them outside now when they emerge from their chrysalides they can only sit where I have left them, hoping nothing comes along and eats them while they are vulnerable and that it doesn’t rain and drown them before they are capable of getting themselves to safety.
All of which means that as a Monarch nurturer, I also have new challenges. Nectar plants are not a big problem. I simply went to the local nursery and picked up some plants that are butterfly favorites and potted them. On warm days they are in my yard to feed all the famished pollinators.
On cold days I bring the plants in and put them inside giant mesh hampers into which I release the butterflies until the weather allows me to take them outside. This is a huge pain, but works beautifully. So far I’ve had nineteen butterflies as overnight houseguests, some of whom stayed for almost three days.
This would not be so difficult if I didn’t count three wonderful, giant, hugely fuzzy orange cats as family members. My adored beasts see the rows of butterfly bins as a buffet they are being denied. So far all their attempts to infiltrate or simply outright storm the room where I’m keeping the vulnerable mesh butterfly containers have failed. I fear, however, that it is only a matter of time.
Fingers crossed that the weather soon becomes warm on a consistent basis. Otherwise, we are definitely in for a cat-tastrophy.