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.
Monarchs released 2019: 81
Monarchs released since 2002: 826
Hi, welcome to my website! I’ve decided I need a place to which I can refer people who ask about my butterflies, my writing, my art, my recipes, etc., and this is it. I’m working on it in a leisurely fashion, so lots of sections are empty or incomplete, but I’ll get there eventually.
When I bring in an egg, I immediately trim down the milkweed leaf on which I found it. The egg probably won’t hatch any time soon and in the meantime the leaf will dry and curl. If there is too much dry, curled up leaf it can be hard to spot the egg to see if it has hatched.
I then put each egg into its own container. I use “bug jars” I buy in bulk from Oriental Trading or Amazon, and tuck a piece of cut up pantyhose (rummage sales are a great place to get piles of pantyhose for pennies) between the lid and the jar.
Any jar will work if you put a piece of nylon over the top and rubber band it down. I don’t recommend mesh unless it is VERY fine. Newborn caterpillars are incredibly tiny Houdinis.
See the tiny air holes on the lid of the jar above? You’d think there were caterpillar exit signs posted on those things given how quickly the newborns will run right off the lovely piece of nice fresh milkweed I’ve just given them and make good their escape to explore my living room!
Hotel Daisy is now full up for eggs today:
It’s always hard to leave the rest of the eggs outside knowing so few will survive. Only one in every 200 Monarch eggs becomes a butterfly, or so I’ve read. My BBF (Best Butterfly Friend) S rushed to my rescue and took an additional 13 eggs, so between the two of us we guaranteed the survival of nearly 50 Monarchs today!
Grow Monarchs Grow!
For those of you following along as I get this set up, I know nothing has been going on here for several days. I’ll get back to building up the site basics tomorrow.
It turns out that keeping nearly 40 caterpillars fed and cared for doesn’t leave any time for… well, anything else! Now that 28 of them are chrysalides, I’ll have time to type up and upload photos for the posts I postponed (pun intended!). I currently have handwritten notes written on paper scraps and will enter them in the order I wrote them.
Holy Crow, EGGS!!! So Many Eggs!!!
Today I brought in… wait for it… THIRTY-FIVE eggs! I am so excited I have been doing little whirling dances around the yard.
This is what a Monarch Egg looks like, right after a female butterfly lays it on a Milkweed plant:
See the little white dot? That’s an egg.
Of course, they’re not always so easy to spot.
See this one?
No? Let me help:
Sometimes it can be hard to tell the difference between an egg and a bit of white Milkweed sap that has oozed out where a Milkweed Bug (more on them later) may have bitten the plant. Below, the white spot just to the left of the stem is Milkweed sap, and the white spot a bit out to the right of the stem is a Monarch egg:
The key is to check the shape. Milkweed sap will be flat, but Monarch eggs are egg-shaped with a bit of a point on the top. Check out the egg shape here:
I don’t accidentally bring in bits of sap anymore, but I brought in plenty when I was first raising Monarchs. Very disappointing, that. It’s terribly difficult to get sap to hatch.
And today I saw my first Monarch of the year. So ready for the 2019 season!