In Which I Share My Butterfly-ing Method With You. AKA: Welcome To Monarchs 101

It’s been a while since I’ve graced your presence with butterflies. Did you miss them?

Do you see the second monarch? twinning!

It’s been a challenge to save the world butterflies while traveling so much. I became busy. Life got in the way. I became distracted.

What was I talking about?

Oh, yeah! Last week I was checking on the irrigation near one of my Giant Milkweed plants when I noticed my biggest nemesis: an effing wasp who was trying to eat monarch caterpillars. It’s what they do.

At that moment, I could not recall where my electric swatter was, so I did the next best thing: I took off my flip flop and proceeded to chase the bastard away from the caterpillars. He got away and I knew he would be back as soon as I was out of sight.

*raises fists in dispair*

I gathered as many caterpillars as I could save and brought them in for safe keeping. Apparently if I don’t control nature, bad things happen. I’ve not been collecting them since we’ve been gone so much. I can ask my house/dog sitter to do a lot of things for me, but feeding and cleaning up after caterpillars might be over the top.

I easily fell back into my old routine: delivering fresh food to them daily; Uber eats without the extra fees.

BABIES

Do you see those little tiny black spots? Those are eggs that are close to hatching. When the egg is first laid, it’s whitish-yellow and get’s darker as it progresses.

Fun fact: When the baby hatches, its first meal is its shell. Which is the equivalent of a human baby eating its amnionic sac. Which is probably better than your toddler eating processed chicken nuggets.

SPEAKING OF POOP

Caterpillars poop A LOT. It’s generally dark green from the milkweed leaves; their poop is little blobs that are small for the tiniest of cats, but get larger as they grow. I was feeding them some purple flowers from my Giant Milkweed and I noticed the cats eating the flowers had purply poop. Science ya’ll.

I knew that telling you this would enhance your life greatly.

SKIN YA’LL

Did you know that monarch caterpillars molt five times in their life cycle? They’re so efficient that when they shed their old skin, they EAT it. The molting process takes about 18-20 hours.

This guy and his old skin. He’s contemplating on which end to start eating first. Choices elude me too buddy. . .

When they grow out of their skin, they also grow out of their FACE (cap).

I often find old face caps laying around. You too?

New face

Just like humans, caterpillars have personalities. Sometimes when I pick one up, they’ll crawl all over the place (while leaving a silk trail on my skin in case they fall) and some will just shut down, curl into a ball and wait for me to put them down.

introvert VS extrovert

Another Fun Fact: Here in hawt Florida, we have butterflies all.year.round. There is no migrating for My Monarchs, as they love the weather.

The other day I went to add in some fresh food after someone contacted me via my Milkweed Eats app and I noticed this guy was getting ready to create his chrysalis. Please admire this sped-up video because I thought I might need an arm transplant from holding the damn phone for so long.

Ok. Sorry. That was a lot of movement. If you now have debilitating vertigo, please do not contact a lawyer. I swear, I thought I was moving in SLOW MOTION while using Time-Lapse.

Here is the shed skin that I often find after they create their chrysalis.

Now that I think about it, these guys are slobs. They poop everywhere and leave their skin and faces for me to clean up as if I have nothing else to do.

Once the chrysalis has hardened, (at least 24 hours later) I’ll spritz it with some water to loosen up the silk and move the chrysalis to a more convenient-for-me-to-release spot. (I use an old styrofoam cooler; I pin the chrysalis by their silk into the side of the cooler and cover with cheese cloth)

Monarch chrysalis on left, Queen chrysalis on the right

{BTW: Moths create cocoons, butterflies create chrysalis. When I hear someone refer to a butterfly coming out of a cocoon, I want to gently poke them in the eye with a spoon.}

In 9- 10 days, they will eclose; generally in the morning and I’ll release them in the afternoon IF it is dry and sunny. If it’s a stormy day, I’ll keep them contained as they don’t eat for the the first 24 hours anyway.

This is a Queen Butterfly, before and after. They are very similar to monarchs; they eat the same food, create the same chrysalis and have the same lifecycle, but for some reason there isn’t the same amount of hoopla over them.

Did you enjoy my Master Class?

I really should charge money for this, but I’ve always been more of a giver than a taker.

XOXO

30 thoughts on “In Which I Share My Butterfly-ing Method With You. AKA: Welcome To Monarchs 101

  1. #1. Huge props for single-handedly saving the Monarchs. I’ve known people who plant milkweed gardens but you go above and beyond.
    #2. My mind is blown with the newly acquired dropped faces knowledge. Who knew your blog was educational?
    👍

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I enjoy doing it; our yard is a flutter of different types of butterflies, which makes me happy.
      Giving an education generally isn’t my jam, so don’t expect it too often. 😳

      Liked by 1 person

  2. My friend the scientist. I’m rarely speechless but WOW. You know your monarch poop and all the rest. The time-lapse video alone was impressive. I would pay good money to see a video of you fighting off wasps with a Viconic flip-flop. Who eats the skin they shed when they go into their chrysalis? Lillie? 😉 You are a wonderful asset to nnature and I’m surprised those little guys allow you to leave town so often.

    I’m wondering if you can come to town to teach my 3 and 4 yr olds all about butterflies this school year. Take your styrofoam cooler on a field trip. I’ll supply a cooler of adult beverages. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. No one eats that shed skin; yuck. 😳

      Last summer, I gave a tutorial/garden/caterpillar visit to one of my gym friends to her visiting grandkids. I let them release a few butterflies and hold some caterpillars. Their favorite part/memory was when one of the caterpillars pooped in their hands! KIDS!
      Honestly, though, the adults enjoyed it all just as much.

      Like

    1. Monarchs are the main ones that I bring in to protect from predators. The other caterpillars in my yard seem to do better on their own. Oh, wait. I forgot about my Eastern Black Swallowtails. I do bring in those cats when I can find them. They are more rare for me but also one of the most beautiful butterflies. (and super cute cats) Their host plants are parsley and fennel, which I have a bit of trying to lure them here. I have nine host plants for different types of butterflies, and I usually have at least 6-8 different types in the yard most days.

      I was also successful in raising a giant swallowtail a few times. https://busybeesuz.com/2020/07/27/poop-party-at-the-wild-lime/

      Like

  3. Pat

    I honestly have missed hearing about your butterflies! This was so interesting. Having just heard again about how Monarchs are endangered, thank you for doing this! I’m a little envious but I just don’t live in the right climate to raise butterflies. Who knew they’d leave their faces around as well as their poop!?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I will certainly try to bring more butterflies to the old blog.
      It’s so sad that one day, there will be no butterflies. I think about that often. Like in 100 years, in school books, they’ll talk about how there were so many insects back in the old days….Damn pesticides.
      The first few times I found a ‘face’ I thought maybe I was seeing things, then I looked into it and in fact, I was finding face caps.

      Like

    1. It is a valuable and wonderful hobby to have. I’m lucky to live somewhere that makes it easy to do all year long.
      Humans and pesticides are working to destroy so much of nature. It’s very sad.

      Like

  4. I loved this post! Not only was it educational but that picture of you holding the little face cap made me laugh out loud! Am I the only one that thought the two chrysalises looked like jade earrings?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Deb.
      Many years ago (2016?), a blogger friend of mine shared that her grown son had planted milkweed and shared how it attracted the monarchs so quickly.
      I thought it was so neat, and I followed suit. Of course, it snowballed into raising/hosting many more butterflies than just monarchs, but they are the ones who seem to need my ‘full’ attention more than the others.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. M

    Wow, I loved this, Suz! Very informational — and I’m in awe with your dedication to the Monarchs.

    I see butterflies around our garden; I don’t know what type they are….but they are very pretty!

    How hard are the chrysallis? They look like necklace pendants. Won’t it be cool if you were wearing them on a necklace and they slowly eclose as people look? You’d be the ultra cool butterfly lady!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey! I’m so happy you enjoyed this post.
      I’ve become such a distracted Butterfly person. Meaning, that if I’m out talking to someone and I see one go by, I have to stop my convo and focus on the butter: “what variety is that?” It’s especially bad when I’m not in my area, and there are different flavors of butterflies.
      I know what every butterfly is in my yard. I have a laminated pamphlet I bought at my garden center that shows all butterflies from my area, with host plants included.

      The chrysalids get very hard after a day or so. I’m digging your necklace idea, but just like real childbirth, they also ooze out some liquids, and I’d have to wear a bib when they eclose. 😳

      Like

  6. Suz, I thoroughly enjoyed this informative and well illustrated post! I had never heard of a queen butterfly before but I see its range doesn’t come this far north. It’s just as pretty as the monarch. I think it’s wonderful that you are such a devoted butterfly guardian. (Have you read “Flight Behavior” by Barbara Kingsolver?) I will try to remember not to use the cocoon word in reference to butterflies! 😉

    Liked by 1 person

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