This is big news because they are not just any caterpillars, they are monarch butterfly caterpillars.
Many assume if they have butterfly bushes and lots of flowers, it will draw and sustain monarch butterflies. Not necessarily true. If the beautiful butterflies don’t have an acceptable plant on which to lay their eggs, there will be no monarch butterflies. Period.
Butterflies must have milk weed or a similar weed on which to lay their eggs. When the larva hatch, they begin eating voraciously, grow quickly, pupate and only then become adult butterflies.
Over the past 30 or 40 years, America has declared war on milk weed. They have poisoned it in fields, along edges, on roadsides and wherever they find it because it is – after all – a weed.
We have butterfly bushes and lots of blooming plants and flowers in our yard, but have been trying to establish milkweed or a similar plant. Butterfly weed is a similar plant. This spring, Nancy retrieved a half dozen seeds from a butterfly weed plant with an open pod. She started them inside, got a few seedlings, nurtured them and then carefully transplanted them outdoors. The threat to the tiny plants were squirrels. They will dig up anything, especially young, fragile plants. So Nancy built a cage sufficient enough to house Hannibal Lector and the plants prospered. Eventually, the butterfly weed grew up and over the three foot barricade and bloomed a magnificent orange. The leaves were green and lush and this past weekend, we saw what we were looking for – Monarch caterpillars. They are big and fat and eating like the pigs they are from their host plant. In a few days they will pupate and later emerge as glorious, adult monarch butterflies.
If you love butterflies, buy a few butterfly weed plants – Eltzroth and Thompson sells them. Plant now and they will bloom next spring. Monarch butterflies will thank you for it.