This is a close up of common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) blooming in my garden in June.
I have many, many milkweed plants.
(I’m not bragging, just stating facts. And, the fact is, I’d be happy to send you ripe seeds in a few weeks.)
Here is the classic butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) blooming in its bright-as-the-summer-sun orange. This also bloomed in June in my garden, but is still blooming today.
I let them grow all over my garden, often as volunteer plants in truly odd spots, because I love monarch butterflies. I’ve planted milkweed of one type or another (both common milkweed and its cousin butterfly weed) in every garden I’ve had for the last 14 years, so that every year I can cross my fingers and hope to spot those cute, clown-colored caterpillars munching happily in my very own yard.
A few weeks ago we saw our first monarchs of the season fly through the yard, sipping on the zinnias I grow to attract butterflies of all kinds. Occasionally we’d see one flitting around the leaves of a common milkweed plant; skittish and picky about where to land and easily disturbed.
Brightly colored zinnias are butterfly magnets! Here we see a monarch sipping nectar from a bright pink “Monster” zinnia. Adult monarchs will drink nectar from many species of flowers, but when it comes to laying eggs, only milkweed will do!
Then, about a week ago – Eureka! – my daughter called me out to the front yard; she had found five monarch caterpillars one one of the milkweed plants. Our joy was palpable. We both went out several times that day and over the next six days to “check on the kids”.
Hello, little fellow! Monarch caterpillars don’t mind the toxins in the milkweed leaves they eat; that’s what makes them poisonous to would-be predators!
We watched them paring down leaves in neat little arcs, growing fatter by the day. Then, just as I began to wonder how much bigger those hungry caterpillars could get, they all disappeared.
“Yay!” I thought. They’ve all gone to pupate. We’ll look for the chrysalids (my preferred plural for chrysalis because “chrysalises” just sounds silly) and keep an eye on those and maybe, just maybe, we’ll catch a brand new monarch emerging.
Delight and anticipation immediately poured from my heart into every corner of my body and began fizzing like champagne.
Evidence of caterpillars well fed. This is monarch caterpillar poop. Its scientific name is “frass”, which is one of my new favorite words.
Until yesterday. I went out to look for those chrysalids and found: none. Seriously! I couldn’t find them anywhere! I looked closely enough to see two new caterpillars, each less than a centimeter in length, recently hatched on the underside of a milkweed leaf, but no pupae!
So cute when they’re young, but soon it will grow up and abandon me, just like its sneaky older siblings did.
I looked on the milkweed, on the plants surrounding it, underneath all of the leaves. I sat and sprawled and bent and, no doubt, entertained the passing neighbors with my comical yogic poses – but I found nothing.
Where are they??? How far away from their host plant can these chubby little caterpillars crawl?
Moving my search area to the internet, I found an article titled “Where to Look for a Monarch Chrysalis in the Garden“, but didn’t care for the bleak numbers about depredation it gave at the beginning. My caterpillars did not bite the dust! (It’s my garden, I can be in denial if I want to.)
Can anyone out there help me solve my monarch mystery?