After reading a great deal about the extraordinary Monarch butterfly, we decided to enlist in Monarch Watch’s proliferation efforts and rear some ourselves. The caterpillars arrived in small containers. Immediately after arrival, they need to be fed fresh milkweed and set up in their rearing container.
We purchased a 10 gallon aquarium at our local hardware store to rear them in. The paper towels needed to be replaced and freshly washed milkweed needed to be supplied every day.
The biggest risk to the caterpillars is always disease. So the container had to be kept clean and any seemingly sick caterpillars had to be quarantined in separate spaces to prevent infection of the rest of the caterpillars.
You can see how small they are when they arrive. The tiny caterpillar is at the very tip of the milkweed leaf.
We set up our rearing station in the front room, away from too much noise and direct sunlight.
It wasn't long before our tiny caterpillars started to grow.
It really makes the heart sing to watch the whole process.
It also breaks your heart when some don't survive or are not well. That is what happened a day after I took this photo. I woke up to sluggish, under the weather caterpillars.
My first fear was disease (specifically Black Death) as it is so easy to pass on bacteria and viruses when they share the same space.
The morning they seemed under the weather, we rushed to our local thrift store and bought individual containers for each of them, in case it was an illness. All the containers were washed and dried and filled with fresh milkweed.
I was in such a state of heart break that I had to have Mike take over for a day or two as I couldn't bear to see them not doing well. Thankfully, day by day, they recovered which led me to believe that turning on the heat in the house dehydrated them.
And so they sat happily in the window... Recovering and growing.
They are hungry little caterpillars so an abundant supply of fresh milkweed is always in order.
Then one day, one by one (at different times throughout the week), each caterpillar crawled up to the top of their jars...
...and formed the classic J to prepare for their chrysalis stage.
The color variations throughout their amazing life cycle is quite astounding. They go from black and yellow stripes to completely green.
Then after several days, the green chrysalis turns black and becomes transparent so much so that one can begin to see the beautiful monarch colors shining through. You can even see the butterfly moving inside.
Then the beautiful Monarch emerges and her miraculous transformation is complete.
We were quite proud of our Monarch Butterflies. We became very attached to them and of course with that, came a great deal of worry...About their lengthy migration ahead (to Mexico or areas of Southern California), about the weather, the temperatures, etc. Due to our New England location, we ended up driving our butterflies about two hours south to where the temperatures were at least five degrees warmer. Luckily, the forecast called for 70 degree temperatures and no precipitation for the following week.
Fair thee well my friend....
I cannot end this post without a little story about milkweed.
We were lucky to have several milkweed plants in our flower beds here at the rental house. But as the nights grew cooler, the milkweed deteriorated. One of my fears as to why the caterpillars became ill was that the milkweed we had was of poor quality.
I was literally in a state of desperation that morning I awoke to find our caterpillars under the weather. I was a sobbing mess actually and wanted desperately to figure out a way in which to revive them. Unfortunately, I could not find any more milkweed on our property (we had used it all up) but while looking out our dining room window with Mike, I could see a milkweed plant at the neighbor's house across the street. Neighbors who are very nice but who we don't know very well.
Without delay, I left Mike at the window and ran across the street (in my pajamas) and picked the most beautiful milkweed I had seen so far. Our neighbors are a young family with small children and the mom is a schoolteacher so I assumed that no one was at home.
When I came back inside, beaming with my handful of Amazon quality milkweed, Mike asks, "Did you see the neighbor? Did you ask if it was okay to pick their milkweed?"
"No, they're all at school, no one is home."
He looks at me curiously and says, "Um, it's Saturday."
Then he adds, "Don't worry, I'm sure your outfit camouflaged you."
Horrified, I can barely ask, "Did they see me ransacking their flower beds? We're they watching me through the window?"
To that he replied, "I don't know, I turned away, I couldn't look."
As the image of me (in my pajamas) raiding our neighbors flower bed as they looked on sunk in, I hesitantly asked, "Should I call them and explain?"
"To explain that you only picked their milkweed because you thought they weren't home?"
We healed my embarrassment with laughter at the whole thing and have no regrets because I do believe that that wonderfully lush milkweed revived our dear caterpillars!
And no, I have yet to confess or explain myself to the neighbors.