We saw a Monarch butterfly sipping nectar from a wildflower in the next-door neighbor's yard on Monday. Now this is late. Most of his buddies are long gone from here and well on their way to Mexico. In fact, some of them are already there.
But even more alarming is that we have two chrysalids right now here at Our Little Acre. A little over two weeks ago, I was shocked to find one larger and one very tiny Monarch caterpillar munching on the tropical milkweed (Asclepias curassavica).
Night temperatures had dipped near freezing and we'd had two light frosts already. Since Monarchs can't fly if the temperature goes below 50° (and even then it has to be sunny if it's below 60°), I worried about these two.
I took the larger one into the house, since I was pretty sure it was close to pupating, but left the smaller one, so he could eat more fresh milkweed until he was large enough for pupation. I thought maybe the warmer temperatures in the house might speed up the development.
So much for that theory. It formed its chrysalis the very next day and now it's been nearly 16 days, which is the longest span of time it's ever taken for a Monarch to develop while in captivity here. But last night, I noticed the chrysalis becoming darker and today I could see the Monarch butterfly clearly through the chrysalis casing.
It will soon eclose (emerge). In fact, I'm keeping a vigil as I write this, because this will be the last chance I'll have to see this particular part of the amazing process until next year. I've missed it every other time we've had a chrysalis in the house.
This Monarch isn't the last Monarch of the season here, however. Remember that I said there was another smaller caterpillar on the milkweed the same time I found this larger one? A little over a week ago, I checked on it and it was getting quite large - large enough to be pupating - and I'm sure that's just what it did later that same day. I was thinking of bringing it inside the house, too, but when I went out to get it, it was nowhere to be found.
I looked around a little bit, but I wasn't able to locate it anywhere. I'm certain it's there, well hidden, with about another week to go before its metamorphosis is complete. I pray we have enough warm weather left for it to be able to fly south, or it will certainly die. We had our first killing frost last night and there's another one due tonight.
So far, reports are that the migration numbers are down from previous years. This may be due to a couple of different factors: Ongoing reduction in natural habitats due to herbicide use and urban development, and fewer births occur during a hot and dry summer. There's not much that can be done about the latter, but if gardeners were sure to plant more milkweed (any Asclepias species will do) and reduce pesticide use in their gardens, it would go a long way to help increase the Monarch population.
It's now 3:00 a.m. and while the casing has started to crack open, there's still no butterfly. But I'm determined to stay awake until it makes its way into the world, and when it does, you'll be the first to know.