Sunday, August 23, 2009

Monarch caterpillars have "arrived" in the garden

Every year around the end of August, we find large numbers of monarch caterpillars in our garden. The butterflies come and go all summer, but we only see the caterpillars at the end of the season.

I always wonder if the ones we are seeing are heading off on the long journey southward. I always intend to research it a bit, read more on the topic. According to some of what I've read, it is possible. I would need to read more to be able to say that with more authority. But every year school starts and the butterfly reading gets lost in the shuffle.

I know that monarchs hatch all summer, but only the final brood or instar will head south on the long migration. Hard to know if this is the final brood in my garden , though, and I'm always left wondering why we only see the caterpillars now and not earlier in the year, too.

We never forget to watch for them, though, and their arrival is a big deal in my house. We climb out through our fake meadow (which is no more than a few feet across)... over the air conditioning compressor fan... around the basement window wells to the area where the common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) is allowed to grow free and tall. We watch them eat, we witness their growth, we search for their chrysalises elsewhere in the yard.

Finding one of those jewel-like sacs hanging upside down from a place like the coiled up garden hose is a bit like finding an Easter egg. I can't help but yell to the rest of the family with excitement.

Yesterday was the first day we saw the caterpillars out there, crawling around gorging themselves on the milky leaves. So far we've seen only three. We'll keep monitoring it, hoping to break the record of 2005, when we saw more than thirty in one day.

It never stops amazing me that our little city yard can host so much wildlife. I like to think that the monarchs will grow wings and head south. I like to imagine them floating up over Georgia Avenue, over the beltway, and across the streets of DC. I like to think of them months from now, hanging like garland from the branches of Mexican trees. Worth hoping for, anyway.
(Note: the photo above is a monarch, but the insect is not hanging from common milkweed.)

No comments: