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Monday, April 30, 2012

We have Caterpillars!

Recently I've seen other bloggers posting photographs of Monarch butterflies and Monarch caterpillars in their garden and I've been a little jealous.

We've got milkweed taking over the garden, but as hard as I looked, I didn't see a single caterpillar. 

 I was beginning to feel that we didn't have the right to display our newly acquired Monarch Waystation sign.

This past weekend, I decided I had to do something with the front border -- it's so overgrown, you can barely see the daylilies which are struggling to bloom between the garden mums, the shrubs and the milkweed.  

Unfortunately, I ended up not getting very far because after an hour or so of leaning over pulling out what seemed like a million milkweed seedlings, such as can be seen in the first photo, and the ever present nutsedge, I had a mammoth headache and had to sit down on an upturned flowerpot and take a break.

That was when I spotted something that made my heart skip a beat -- a Monarch caterpillar!

I didn't feel well enough yesterday to explore much more and see how many might be out there, but as soon as I got home from work this evening, I had to see if I could still find him.  

To my delight, I found not only the one I had seen on Sunday, but at least four of his cousins, all big and healthy and munching away on the milkweed!

I'll probably delay the rest of the weeding of that flowerbed because I don't want to disturb or damage the caterpillars.

The strange thing is, although we have some very healthy stands of milkweed in the back garden, there's not a caterpillar to be seen among them.  Their leaves aren't chewed up at all.  I wonder if it's the proximity to the bird feeders that explains the lack of caterpillars, although I thought I read that Monarch cats were poisonous.

Does anyone have any suggestions as to why the milkweed in the back garden are caterpillar-less? 

Words and photographs by Jayne Wilson, Green and Serene, Jayne's Country Garden.


Steph@RamblingWren said...

I'm just curious how you got your Milkweed to grow. Mine is struggling right now. Just planted it a week ago and it seems like it needs water everyday! Thought they were drought tolerant. I can't figure out what is going on.

Jayne said...

Hi Steph, My milkweed (apart from the new seedlings) is from last year. I cut it back after the winter freezes and it's come back. The seedlings are all self-seeded. I'll be trimming the seed pods this year before they get a chance to pop!
If I remember when I originally planted, it did take some supplemental watering until it was established.

Bernie H said...

That's brilliant Jayne. How fortuitous that your headache forced you to take and break, or you may not have noticed the little one.

Kathleen Scott said...

Too much fun! In Florida, I left pots of soil around the garden to be colonized by tropical milkweed. Then I gave them to neighbors. Within a few years our street was a monarch corridor.

Wish the tropical milkweed grew better here in the Hill Country. Mine didn't make it through the cold winter 4 years ago.

Monarch cats absorb the alkaloids in milkweed. Birds only eat a monarch caterpillar once... Your mama monarch might have been layed out by the time she finished your front hedge...

Pam's English Garden said...

Congratulations, Jayne! This year I want to apply for a waystation sign. P. x

Jayne said...

You're probably right Bernie. Sitting down right where I did just put me in the perfect position to spy the first caterpillar.

Jayne said...

Thanks for the tip Kathleen. I'll leave some pots of soil around to catch some seed this year so I can share. I tried digging up and repotting some last year but it didn't work too well.

Jayne said...

Go for it Pam. I'm so happy we have ours.

Corner Gardener Sue said...

I have several kinds of milkweed. I'm thinking I've seen cats on most of them at different times of the season, but there are times where I don't see any at all on some of them. Sometimes there are just a few, and other times more. I don't know why.

Jayne said...

Thanks Sue. I finally saw a tiny caterpillar on the milkweed in the back garden today. All the other plants were lush and green. The one with the cat was all chewed up and sickly looking, lol.