The last few weeks have seen several posts here about monarch butterflies. I wrote about our unsuccessful search for monarchs in Milkweed Adventures. Then I followed it up with Monarch Musings, about the discovery that each season there are four generations of monarchs, only the last of which migrates to Mexico and lives the longest. Finally, I exulted over finding some caterpillars.

I don’t plan to keep a daily monarch journal (I promise!), but I did want to offer some thoughts on the first few days with future butterflies in jars on my kitchen counter.

First, I worry about them. I don’t like the idea of bringing a wild creature home and killing it; the idea is to usher them safely into their next phase. The other night we brought home two inch-long caterpillars and one 1 1/2 to 2 incher. One of the “inchers” was so torpid I worried that it was dying. Yesterday I resolved to give it some fresh milkweed in the morning, and if it didn’t revive I’d take it back to its home field.

It did revive — after shedding its skin in the afternoon.

Its old suit of clothes is that shriveled black thing on the leaf above; its antennae are the little curl on the floor of the jar. Today, he’s an inch and a half long and eats as voraciously as an adolescent boy.

The big guy we’ve named Houdini. On Friday, his first full day with us, my youngest found him twice outside the jar, curled in placid distress (yes, there is such a thing) on the screen covering the jar. I closed all the gaps with blobs of poster putty. Then last night, he wove the silken “hanger” and dropped into J-position.

“Why does he hang in a J?” asked Younger Daughter.

“Because my name is Janet, and I feed him,” I replied.

This afternoon he began the writhy, shrinky, uncomfortable looking process of shedding his caterpillar garb for the last time. Such an amazing process to watch, so rich with significance as a parable of new life.

It took about 40 minutes, once the skin split and the green chrysalis began to spread around Houdini. We look forward to his final escape in 10 days or so!

Ah, but there’s still more… This morning when I went for fresh milkweed, Irene was blowing through. We haven’t been hit nearly as badly here in Upstate New York as everyone predicted, but the wind and rain were blowing the milkweed flat. All the undersides of the leaves were exposed, and there were two tiny little monarch caterpillars clinging for dear life. I brought them home, planning to release them tomorrow after the wind and rain are past… but the girls have named one of them. I fear we’re running a monarch farm.

Peeper — so named because the first thing he did was chew a window in his milkweed leaf — is about half an inch long.

Ah, but there’s still more. (I’m almost done, though…)

Yesterday I saw several monarchs on a walk through the woods. Then I saw a caterpillar on milkweed that looked very like a monarch, but… not quite.

Here’s one of the monarchs I saw.

And here’s the mystery caterpillar.

At first I thought it might be a queen butterfly caterpillar, but it doesn’t have the third set of filaments that characterize the queen. Nevertheless, after my whole family accompanied me excitedly into the woods after I told them about it… we brought it home, too. Can’t wait to see what it turns into.

Till then, my kitchen counter has 3 large jars and a fishbowl full of quiet munching.

5 thoughts on “Butterfly Farm

  1. That is so amazing! We didn’t get to see the transformation from caterpillar to chrysalis, but our butterfly did emerge almost 10 days to the hour from when it made its chrysalis. It’s so neat that you found younger caterpillars, too, as we have never seen one shed its skin and certainly never found tiny ones. I keep checking our butterfly weed to see if we’ll find the fourth round of caterpillars here.

    And as for a daily butterfly post, I certainly wouldn’t mind!

  2. This is so fascinating — and I will be sure to check back and read any updates, so please don’t hesitate to give them, though I don’t know how you find the time!

  3. I’m glad to know there are others who find this as interesting as I do! I’m sure I won’t be able to resist at least a few updates. :-)

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