Sunday, August 30, 2015

Raising Royalty

Monarch butterflies are reported to be in decline and I agree that there seem to be fewer and fewer each fall. I'm not that old but when I was a kid the autumn afternoons seemed thick with them fluttering around.  Now when I see one it's cause for comment.  I'm sure there are several reasons for the decline including loss of habitat, the use of chemicals in the environment and changing climate.  Another culprit I'm guessing is the population surge the last few years (at least here in the northeast US) of stink bugs aka shield bugs.  While they are described as being an agricultural pest and cause lots of damage by piercing fruit and sucking the juice out, leaving an icky spot prone to rot, I've seen them doing the same thing to caterpillars - apparently they aren't all vegetarians.  :-(

Monarchs have very specific needs and the main thing they need are milkweed plants for the caterpillars to eat.  Every year I check the milkweed that grows in the ditches and hedgerows and headlands for them.  In the last few years I haven't seen any youngsters despite searching.  This year, they're here in force!

From a farmer's perspective this is a hay field infested with milkweed which needs to be eradicated before it takes over the field.  From a Monarch's point of view it's a super nursery.  All those standy-up plants out there are young milkweed.

I had found four caterpillars on milkweed plants in the overgrown weed patch out front which used to be a strawberry bed.  That was cause for celebration!  Then Andy and I wandered back and forth along one edge of the field right next to the ram pasture and counted about 60 caterpillars in ten minutes and those were just the ones we could see easily without crawling around looking under leaves.  I'm happy to say they were everywhere!

Big fat ones the size of my pinkie.

Teeny wee little ones.

One milkweed had two chewing on the top two tender young leaves.

They all looked hale and hearty with the exception of one which had come to grief at the business end of one of the aforementioned stink bugs.  I know it's "nature's way" but let's just say the stink bug will never see another sunrise.

Knowing the caterpillars are out there we will definatly wait until as late as possible into the fall to deal with the milkweeds.  We want to give the Monarchs every chance to grow up and get gone. 

"Thanks!  It's tough trying to grow into a butterfly!"

Glad to help, little fella.  Try to come back next year and bring your friends!


  1. Our new farm has a wonderful population of Eastern Tiger Swallowtails that also like the milkweed. We are concerned about weed control and yet we know butterflies need them. Ralph and I were going to wage war on the Queen Annes Lace until we found out how many beneficial insects like it. Caterpillars of the Eastern Black Swallowtail butterfly eat the leaves, bees and other insects drink the nectar, and predatory insects, such as the Green Lacewing, come to Queen Anne's Lace to attack prey, such as aphids. You like so many farmers pay attention to your world!

  2. I feel that summer is not complete without seeing a Monarch butterfly caterpillar, a shooting star, and one of what I call T-Rex spiders, you know, the ones that make the big zig-zag in their web! I am very happy that you have all of those Monarch caterpillars! I haven't seen any yet this summer, but I am on the lookout!!

  3. I've seen ONE monarch butterfly recently. Going to go check my milkweed for caterpillars. I haven't seen a swallowtail in eons. We are surrounded by fields of corn and soy and lots of weedkillers. :(

  4. How awesome! I'll check ours again, but I've seen nothing and only two butterflies :-/.

  5. California milkweed must be different, looks different with lots of hairy like stickers and leaves are different.

    1. Yes, much different looking and more toxic to livestock than our eastern variety.