Monday, September 1, 2008

Monarch Watch

It was a beautiful Labor Day holiday here at Our Little Acre, though a tad bit warm for our tastes at 90°. The humidity was low and there was a slight breeze though, so that made it better, especially in the shade.

I worked in the garden, deadheading and watering, and as I made my way around the back of Max's Garden, I looked down and there on the ground under the stone bench, was a big fat Monarch caterpillar. What was he doing way over here? The nearest Asclepias was at least 25-30 feet away.

Ahhhh ... I know. He was looking for a safe place to hang out for a week or so while he spent some time becoming a butterfly!

As he crawled along, he eventually came to one of the bench's legs. He crawled right up the side of it, very slowly, lifting his head periodically and swinging it around to look for any signs of danger. He continued upward until he reached the bottom of the bench, where he crawled out a little ways, then stayed there for a couple of hours.

Though I've seen many a Monarch caterpillar in our gardens over the last couple of years, I've yet to find a chrysalis there. They're pretty sneaky about where they go to take care of the business of metamorphosis. It's a very vulnerable time in the life of a butterfly, so it needs to be in an out-of-the-way place.

I continued to do my work in the garden, picking tomatoes and green beans, potting up one of the bougainvilleas, planting a couple of new plants, and the seemingly never-ending chore of watering. When I went to the bench to check on the caterpillar, he was gone! While I thought that would have been a great place for a chrysalis, apparently there was something he just didn't like.

Looking around for a little bit, I found him about two feet away, in the middle of the hardy Hibiscus 'Fireball'. He'd crawled up about two feet and was on the underside of a leaf, in the 'J' position. Now this was exciting, because now that he'd picked a spot, I was going to be able to watch the process of shedding his skin for the final time and becoming a chrysalis. I'd missed it last year, when I had a good chance of seeing it.

I grabbed a beach towel and plopped myself on the ground to watch. I snapped a couple of pictures ...

It became too dark for me to see, so reluctantly, I went inside but made plans to return periodically, flashlight in hand, so that I still might get to see more of the process. I've made two trips out there to check on our little guy, but there have been no changes and now it's time for bed. I just know it will all be over by morning, but maybe I'll get lucky!


Lisa at Greenbow said...

How exciting Kylee. I have never seen a caterpillar go through this stage before either. I wish you could get more pictures.

I always wonder where the caterpillars of the Black Swallowtail go when they finish eating the bronze fennel in the garden. I have not been lucky enough to see one of the big fat caterpillars even get into the J position.

I will be anxiously awaiting to see if you get to see any of the action.

Anonymous said...

Kylee, that is so cool. I love your photos of him. So nice and with such great detail. I hope he makes it all the way to butterfly stage. I think you can bring him indoors if you want to watch him emerge.~~Dee

Kylee Baumle said...

Lisa ~ Oh, I certainly hope to get more pictures! He is still striped this morning, so I'm checking him every once in awhile so I can get photos of him changing into a chrysalis. He seems to be chewing on himself, so I imagine he's loosening his skin so he can wriggle out of it.

I don't know if Swallowtails hang upside down like that. I know their cocoons look nothing like the Monarchs.

Dee ~ Thanks, Dee! I did bring one inside last year and I may do that if I don't get to see this one. Even though it was in the house, in the very same room I was, I still missed it! I thought it would take longer than it did.

Anonymous said...

We have a lot of monarchs in the yard right now. Lots of chryalis' (chrysali?) through the past few years and once we saw one beginning to emerge, left and then when we returned it had already flown away. Very cool.

Louise Hartwig said...

Kylee, I have nine chrysalis in the butterfly house and 3 more in the J position. The one from home is flying freely in the house. It is real baby nursery. I am soooo excited. Mom

Truman Peabody said...

I love this post. I grew up in SE Michigan. For the past 30 + years I have been in Arizona. I remember those catapillars!

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