Poetry Friday: The First Caterpillar of the Year!
Late yesterday afternoon, I saw my first monarch caterpillar of the year. Really?!
Wow, it is late. Five years ago, I saw my first larva on June 19th, according to the data I submitted as a citizen scientist for Journey North. (see below)
We did move three hours north, but we moved to a cabin that we built in 2005 and have visited multiple times a year since. So, I am familiar with the natural rhythms of this place as well. And it’s still late.
The caterpillar was at least a stage 3 instar, perhaps a stage 4. I couldn’t really get a good look at it because I didn’t want to touch the milkweed as I had just sprayed it with “OFF” for our evening walk. Unfortunately, I’ve made that mistake before and I never want to make it again. I learned my lesson; don’t touch plants or insects you want to watch develop if you use a chemical product on your person. It is easily passed on to other (much smaller) living things and is deadly. I guess that’s the point when using it to deter mosquitos and black flies, but not monarch eggs or larva.
Since this caterpillar was a decent size and munching away on a common milkweed plant, he/she had been around a while — maybe a week to ten days. The reason I noticed the caterpillar tonight was that I saw the leaves had been eaten on the milkweed. Eaten milkweed leaves are a key indicator of the presence of monarch larva. It is, after all, the only plant they eat. Unfortunately, much of the milkweed I’ve observed this year has been untouched (i.e. uneaten).
Monarchs are a passion of mine. I’ve worked to conserve their habitat for the last twenty years. This year, the first year in twenty years, I elected to not raise any monarchs. Usually, I do this under the guise of education. And, I was modest in the numbers that I raised in the past. But, the more research I read, the more I am convinced that we could be hurting more than helping the monarch population by rearing the iconic butterfly. Diseases are more easily spread and those hand-reared might not have the right navigational development when not exposed to the phenological cycles that they would in the wild.
If you want to help monarchs, plant milkweeds native to your area of the country. If you need to know which types of milkweeds are…