It has been a strange year on the farm for Monarch Butterflies. It was mid July before I saw the first one. I’ve only seen a few since. I’ve only found one Monarch Caterpillar so far this year. Last year I was overrun with Monarchs and Monarch Caterpillars.
Monarch Butterfly and goldenrod
Lots of insects around the farm in late summer. It won’t be long and they will all be gone. The Wooly Bear Caterpillars are all over the place now. I thought I had seen the last of the Monarch Caterpillars several weeks ago but this one turned up a couple of days ago. I doubt he will make it.
Wooly Bear Caterpillar
Common Green Bottle Fly
Walking around my Prairie the last few weeks turned up a number of different insects.
Monarch Caterpillar and Milkweed Beetle
In all of the time I’ve lived on my farm I have never seen a monarch chrysalis. Shortly after all of the monarch caterpillars had disappeared I noticed this chrysalis attached to the side of my house. What was most amazing to me was the fact that the chrysalis was over 50 feet from the nearest milkweed plant. I wasn’t even sure it was a monarch chrysalis but my wife confirmed it. Over a period of days I photographed it. Once it looked like the butterfly was going to emerge I started checking on it every several house but I still missed the big event. On the last check I found the Monarch Butterfly trying to crawl into the grass. It crawled onto my finger then took flight.
As I noted in an earlier blog, this has been a great year for Monarch Caterpillars. At the end of August I was tracking six caterpillars at several locations in my prairie. On September first they all disappeared. I tried finding them in the surrounding weeds but didn’t have any luck. Within the next several weeks there should be a large number of Monarch Butterflies turning up in the Prairie.
This has been an excellent year for photographing Monarch Caterpillars. It has been quite a few years since I have been able to find so many of them. This is the batch of Monarchs that will be starting their migration to Mexico in a few weeks.
What is interesting to me is that I found most of these on Milkweed plants that had been mowed down earlier in the summer so these were sort of a second generation plant. I suspect they were newer and much tastier than the older plants.
A few years ago I found a similar situation. I had a large number of Milkweed plants in my garden. When I decided to eradicate them I found it was almost impossible. I took three years of constant hoeing to get rid of all of them. Every week there would be new plants. Even though the plants were only a few inches tall I started finding Monarch Caterpillars on them. Every time I went out to work in the garden I had to look for the caterpillars and move them before I could hoe.
I had been noticing quite a few Monarch Butterflies out in the prairie so I went looking for caterpillars. I found three of them late in the day. They didn’t seem to be moving much and appeared to have found a place to rest for the evening.
It’s been several years since I’ve had many Monarch Butterflies on the farm. About five years ago Milkweed started growing in my garden. Since I wasn’t using the entire garden I let it grow. For several years in a row I found large numbers of Monarch Caterpillars on the Milkweed plants.
A couple of years later the Milkweed had established itself in several other places on the farm so I decided to remove it from the garden. This was easier said than done. The root system is large and the roots are even larger. I’ve spent the last couple of years hoeing it under several times a week and it is still growing.
Last week my wife and I were gathering produce from the garden and my wife found a Monarch Caterpillar on the ground. I decided to move it to a patch of milkweed growing nearby. Over the next week I found about a half dozen Monarch Caterpillars in the garden. I noticed they were attaching themselves to the young milkweed plants still growing in the garden. As I hoed the garden I carefully remove the caterpillars and moved them to the nearby milkweed plants.
I haven’t quite figured out what is going on because there are no milkweed plants in the garden that are over three inches tall but the caterpillars seem to gravitate to them.
Up until a couple of days ago I didn’t know if the caterpillars that I had moved survived but as it turned out they are flourishing in their new location. Every time I go out the check on them they are eating as fast as they can.
I’m concerned that they are not going to survive to migrate south because the Monarch Butterfly migration is currently underway in this area.
I recently donated one of my photos of a Monarch Caterpillar to a non-profit organization so they could include it in their Guide d’identification et de gestion des pollinisateurs et des plantes melliferes.
Over the past several years I’ve been trying to grow milkweed on the farm. I started with a patch in the garden and now have three large patches of milkweed. The original intent was to provide food and lodging for Monarch Butterflies. Last year I had a bumper crop of Monarch Caterpillars in the various milkweed patches. This summer I’ve seen the results of my labor. Not only do I have Monarch Caterpillars but I have a great variety of butterflies using the blooming milkweed. In addition to the butterflies there are also Ruby-throated Hummingbirds frequenting the patches as well as a variety of bees.
I spent the better part of a morning in my patches photographing butterflies. As I formed the idea for this blog I thought I must have lots of photos of butterflies on my milkweed plants. Later in the day I searched my photos and much to my surprise I don’t have a single photo of a butterfly on a milkweed plant. Either I haven’t been out in the milkweed patches at the right time or this is truly an unusual year. Today I counted 10 different butterflies in my milkweed patch. Here are just a few of the insects I found on my milkweed plants.
Silver Spotted Skipper
Great Spangled Fritillary