A caterpillar leaves the milkweed

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Courtesy Photo

A caterpillar leaves the milkweed

Editor’s Note: This is the third in a series of articles where the author talks about her planning and planting a native garden.

Previously:

  • Milkweed and Monarchs-Lisa discusses a few of the reasons she decided to plant a garden full of native plants and how it can benefit the environment.
  • A caterpillar is discovered – Serendipity in the garden, Lisa finds not one but two monarch butterfly caterpillars

About a week or so after first discovering and starting my observations of Duchess, and later Princess, they both departed from the milkweed. They traveled to another area of the garden, each attached themselves to the underside of the leaves of different plants and each formed a chrysalis.

Duchess traveled to my dogwood (Cornus sericea) and Princess traveled to my foxglove beardtongue (Penstemon digitalis) plant. I hadn’t seen Princess travel, but I was able to follow Duchess as she moved down the milkweed stem and over the flower bed. She moved fast! She stopped to rest and hide under my golden alexander (Zizia aurea). I figured she may have noticed me following her.

Ironically, I had to leave to attend a caterpillar show that day and when I returned home, I wasn’t certain I would find Duchess again. She was no longer under the golden alexander so I figured she’d moved elsewhere. I had the same challenge with Princess later in the summer. Fortunately, I happened to be pruning my dogwood and found myself looking right at Duchess. After observing her movement, I was better prepared to look for and locate Princess when her turn to form a chrysalis came. There is a window of more or less 24 hours before the chrysalis forms. Because of its light green color, once a chrysalis is formed it becomes very hard to find it among the garden leaves. I got lucky.

A monarch caterpillar will find the underside of something to attach itself to and transition into its chrysalis. You can find them under leaves, but also under garden furniture, hanging on fences, etc. My girls stuck to perennials. They secured themselves by spinning an adhesive, substance similar to silk, that lets them attach and hang from the leaf. They hung in the shape of the letter ‘J’ overnight, and by afternoon the next day Duchess had formed her chrysalis. Princess had taken a little longer. She was done by early evening. I wonder if temperatures had something to do with this because Duchess’s cycle was earlier in the summer when it was much warmer.

With a chrysalis formed, I now had to wait. In the next post I’ll detail how their chrysalides changed as the monarchs prepared to emerge.

Lisa Grasso is an environmental activist and advocate for sustainable practices in both business and at home. To see more topics, go to sustainablysimplelife.com/

Next – A Chrysalis Formed and Changing. Lisa observes the behavior and changes in her garden’s residents.