Monarch Butterflies: Chrysalis Watch

Mysterious Monarch Butterfly

Monarch Butterfly

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For several weeks we have seen monarch butterflies flitting around our gardens—stopping to take advantage of the nectar plants we have growing in abundance. We watched them turn from caterpillars to chrysalises to Monarchs!

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They really enjoy the goldenrod, but there are other nectar sources that they like as well, including the zinnias, coneflowers, Joe-Pye weed, liatris, bee balm, asters, phlox, mallows, mints, coreopsis, and rudbeckia.

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Of course the buddleia, aptly nicknamed butterfly bush, is their favorite stop.

I am glad that we let stands of milkweed grow around our yard too. The flowers not only have a luscious scent, but they also attract lots of pollinating insects. Since they are the only plant monarch caterpillars feed on, the females lay their eggs here. The newly hatched larvae are ravenous eating machines and tear right into the milkweed leaves. Each female can lay up to 400 eggs!

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Here are two tiny hatchlings on a milkweed leaf.

Milkweed is poisonous to most animals and a diet of it makes the monarch caterpillars distasteful to birds and other would-be predators, otherwise they would be readily picked off and eaten. Read more about milkweed.

As they eat and grow they outgrow their skins and shed them several times. Eventually the caterpillars get ready for their transformation into butterflies.

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First they form a silken attachment and hang upside-down from it in a J shape.

Then they form a covering over themselves called a chrysalis. It is quite pretty, a light green with gold dots.

They can be hard to spot since the caterpillars will form them on the underside of a leaf or anything that will hold them.

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We have found them on rocks, a garden bench, and even on a tomato!

The larvae pupate in here for about 2 weeks.

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About 24 hours before the butterflies emerge, the shell of the chrysalis becomes clear enough to see the body of the adult butterfly and sometimes even the color patterns on their wings.

After breaking out of the chrysalis, they plump up their wings and dry them in the sun before flying off to tank up on nectar.

This generation of monarchs will not stay around to breed and lay more eggs. These guys have a long journey ahead of them and nectar is an essential fuel for their flight south. They will stop and refuel along the way, actually gaining weight during their flight south. This helps them survive the winter in semi-dormancy, high in the mountains of central Mexico.

Usually monarchs live only a few weeks but this migrating generation lives 8 or 9 months, long enough to make it to their wintering sites in Mexico and to head back northward in the spring.

 

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It will take several generations before the monarchs make it all the way back to where I live in New England again but when they do we will be ready with lots for them to eat!

See the Almanac’s list of plants that attract butterflies.

About This Blog

Get inspired by Robin Sweetser's backyard gardening tips. Robin has been a contributor to The Old Farmer's Almanac and the All-Seasons Garden Guide for many years. She and her partner Tom have a small greenhouse business and also sell plants, cut flowers, and vegetables at their local Farmer's Market.

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monarchs

This was a good year in Godfrey ,Illinois. I have been raising them for 3 years. I have swamp,tropical,and common milkweed in my grow area. Success rate so far has been extremely good.I have started releasing them and it looks as though will probably be about 65 for the fall. I hope they don't get a bad frost in Mexico this year.

Monarchs

My 85yr old Dad's Hospice nurse raises Monarchs and last week released a dozen for him in his backyard. What an awesome, once in a lifetime experience!! So thankful to both her and her Mom for taking on this annual project and helping these beautiful creatures survive:) I never realized you can buy kits online, going to become an annual project for my family too!

monarch caterpillars

Those monarch caterpillars look a lot like cut worms. Are they one and the same?

Cutworms are found in the

Cutworms are found in the ground. They do not like to be in an exposed area since they are a favorite food of toads and birds. You usually find them when digging in the the top inch or two of soil. They are drab colored - nothing like the striped monarch caterpillar. When disturbed they curl up into a “C” shape.

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Monarch Butterfly

We've planted some milkweed in our flower garden. Saw only two monarchs this past summer and was thrilled to see them. But, no caterpillars. :( Will keep trying to attract them with more "monarch friendly" plants. Used to see LOTS monarch butterflies many years ago, but not so now.

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