One evening during the week, I headed out to the front garden with a view to pruning the milkweed, which have completely taken over the front border. They're tall and straggly and I wanted to cut them back to encourage bushier growth, as the ones in the back garden have done.
However, as I bent over to prune, I came eye to eye with a fat juicy Monarch caterpillar.
Moving on, I looked around some more and was delighted to count upwards of 15 caterpillars all steadily munching on the aforementioned out-of-control milkweed.
I made the decision then and there that the pruning could wait! Since then I've been on caterpillar watch.
I was a little concerned yesterday evening as I was looking around and there seemed to be less caterpillars. In addition, a mockingbird was keeping a wary eye on me and giving regular "chucks" of annoyance.
Her behavior was strange and I thought that perhaps she had been eating the caterpillars and was annoyed at my presence. However I have read that monarch caterpillars are unappealing to birds and are not eaten due to the presence of cardenolide aglycones in their bodies, which they ingest as they feed on milkweed.
Her strange behavior was suddenly explained a few minutes later when I went into my husband's den, which is at the front of the house. I was standing by the window talking to my husband when a flurry of movement outside caught my eye. I looked out and was thrilled to see a fledgling mockingbird clinging precariously to a milkweed stem. "Mom" swooped down and gave a chuck of encouragement and flew up to the gable of the roof. The little one fluttered to the next milkweed stem.
By the time I got outside with my camera, they were in the trees next door. I couldn't see them, but I could hear mom still encouraging her offspring.
So -- back to the Monarch caterpillars -- where were they all? What had happened to them?
That's when I looked up to the gabled roofline of the house. Oh what a wonderful sight! There were several caterpillars, now hanging from the roof, obviously beginning the miracle of metamorphosis.
I took lots of photos of them, but unfortunately, when I went to take more photos this morning, I realized I've completely misplaced the Sandisk out of my camera!!! We looked all over and couldn't find it. Hopefully it will turn up, but for now I don't have the photos I took of the caterpillars yesterday.
I did get this photo of a caterpillar picking out his spot this morning.
He's not the first, as you can see from this longer shot. The caterpillar is on the right. Next to him are two new green chrysalises and further up to the left are some chrysalis shells from earlier this year.
This one is right by the front porch and will be nice and easy to keep tabs on.
These three are on the west side of the house by the downspout.
This one didn't show much ambition -- where the others are all at least 8 feet off the ground, this one attached itself to the stonework a mere foot above ground level. I hope it doesn't cook there - the area gets full sun.
So the total count is 7 right now (that I can find, anyway). If the caterpillar in the first photo makes it (it was still munching on milkweed this morning) it will be 8. And if the caterpillar in the second photo makes it, the total will be 9.
I just hope they all make it -- I have read awful things about nasty bugs that suck the juices out of chrysalises and kill them. We've done what we can, not sure what else we can do at this point.
Rather than get all melancholy about the unfairness of Mother Nature, I'm just going to Think Positive and hopefully we will have contributed to more Monarch Butterflies in the world.
Words and photographs by Jayne Wilson, Green and Serene, Jayne's Country Garden.