Tomorrow I will finish up the Growing Milkweed page. Am also beginning to realize that I will need an entirely separate section for bugs, in addition to the butterflies.
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
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!
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!
Monarchs arrive on Chicago’s North Shore 2019!
Today my neighborhood BBF (Best Butterfly Friend), otherwise known as the magnificent S, spotted the first Monarch of the season!
Spring Update from Professor Chip Taylor (University of Kansas), founder and director of Monarch Watch, the preeminent authority on Monarch migration in the US. What follows below was taken from the Monarch Watch newsletter. You can subscribe to the newsletter here: https://monarchwatch.org/subscribe
Monarch Population Status – by Chip Taylor
To understand the monarch annual cycle, I break down the year into 6 stages: 1) overwintering (late Oct–early April; 2) return migration through Mexico (late Feb–April); 3) breeding in the US in March and April; 4) recolonization of the regions north of 37N (May–early June); 5) summer breeding north of 37N (June–August) and 6) fall migration (August–Oct). Based on first sightings, temperatures, probable egg distributions, generation length and early May conditions, my current prediction is that the overwintering population will be in the range of 4–5 hectares. At this writing, I see the population as trending toward 4 hectares. However, higher than average temperatures for May and June–August in the Upper Midwest could result in a population that is closer to 5 hectares.
The positive conditions in Stage 3 this year include the highest number of first sighting recorded in the central flyway since Journey North has been recording these data. That seems to tell us that the relatively large population of 2018–2019 wintered well, in spite of reports that the butterflies were abnormally active during the winter, and navigated from the colony sites back to Texas without experiencing high mortality. Temperatures in Texas were lower than in 2018 which had the effect of again confining most of the egg laying by returning monarchs to Texas but also increased exposure to predators and parasites and increased generation length. Overall, the first generation produced in Texas and southern Oklahoma could be larger than in 2018 due to the larger number of returning monarchs. While that could be true, the predators and parasites could be more abundant this year. Unfortunately, we have no measures of the year to year variation in egg and larval mortality resulting from these causes. Due to the lower temperatures, the average date of departure from Texas and Oklahoma for first generation monarchs should be a bit later this year. That may not be a bad thing since the forecasts indicate that conditions for recolonizing the northern breeding areas won’t be favorable until the second half of May.
The bottom line is that we can expect monarchs to have another good year, not as good as 2018, but a good year – assuming near average temperatures of Stages 4 (May–early June) and 5 (summer).
For a much more detailed discussion of my Stage Specific Model for Monarch Population Development please view the complete May 2, 2019 Monarch Population Status article at https://monarchwatch.org/blog
Milkweed Progress Report!
On May 1st at my Evanston IL home, the Milkweed season had begun! Here are the pics I took that day:
Well-established Milkweed with a full Southern exposure:
Well-established Milkweed with a Southwestern exposure:
Well-established Milkweed with a Western exposure. Plants usually come up near the previous year’s growth. Here you can see remnants of last year’s stalk:
Milkweed sprout from a seed planted last fall and overwintered outdoors in a clay pot. I find the Milkweed seeds do best directly in the ground, but I try to have some in pots to give away to Monarch-raising newbies.
Grow Milkweed Grow!