A lot of people are talking about saving monarch caterpillars! We met someone on a walk in the country looking under milkweed leaves for caterpillars so she could take them home and raise them.
My New Job is Saving Monarch Caterpillars
Last year I planted Common Milkweed or Asclepias Syriaca. This year I have about 5 plants. I have been hoping to have Monarch eggs in my garden for a long time and this year, lo and behold we have Monarch caterpillars. I didn’t realize though, that my job would be saving Monarch caterpillars! This is how it happened! It was a very exciting day when I saw my first baby caterpillar. And then there were lots of them. They were so tiny. See at the bottom of the picture and notice the sized compared to my thumb!
I wasn’t sure if we had enough milkweed to feed all of them. I have read about several peoples’ experiences when they run out of milkweed and still have a lot of hungry caterpillars. One person got more milkweed from a nursery which was a disaster because the milkweed had been sprayed and all the caterpillars died. Another person found that the caterpillars will eat pumpkin and cucumbers, but only very fresh cucumbers!
Something is Eating the Monarch Caterpillars
Having enough milkweed was not the problem. It turned out that something was eating the baby caterpillars. I was seeing less and less of them so I took two into the house to protect them. We have a lot of American Goldfinches in our garden and I think they were the culprits. Mostly Goldfinches eat seeds but they feed caterpillars to their young so possibly they ate the caterpillars. I talked to a naturalist and he said the birds probably didn’t eat them but probably insects ate them. Luckily I did bring two in the house. (Update Mid October–We ended up raising and releasing twelve Monarch butterflies!) We kept them in a large fish bowl and fed them fresh milkweed leaves everyday. They are voracious eaters. One night they ran out of milkweed and the next morning one caterpillar was missing. I knew from my story about the caterpillar on the sage plant that we might find him. Sure enough he was crawling around on the floor looking for more milkweed!
In the end we had plenty of milkweed. I could have saved a few more caterpillars. They both made a chrysalis and we are waiting for them to emerge. When they stopped eating completely we put a few sticks into the fish bowl so they could use them to hang from for the chrysalis. They often stop eating for periods of time, It seems like they sleep for a while and then they start eating again. When they are interested in making a chrysalis they start climbing up the sticks.