Milkweed is such an important plant. Its leaves are the only thing monarch caterpillars will eat, and its flowers attract all kinds of pollinators. So it’s exciting to see several kinds of milkweeds taking off in my yard this year.

The whorled milkweed is the big winner. For several years I couldn’t figure out why it wouldn’t grow, even though I bought six-packs of plugs in two different years. And then we put up a rabbit fence, which has made all the difference. There are so many individual plants now that I lose track when counting.

I could tell, right when it first started coming up, that there would be more this year — notice the old stems next to the new shoots.

Closeup of several small green plants next to three tall brown stems.

Now it seems like there are more and more whorled stems every day.

Dozens of plants with narrow leaves, in varying heights.

Poke milkweed is such a fun variety. This year it nearly quadrupled.

Three brown stems, each with multiple one-inch plants nearby.
Bright-green hairless plant with large leaves and many green bud clusters.

Swamp milkweed doubled…

Two old stems in the background, four short new shoots in front.

…and it’s looking really good.

Three tall green plants with wet leaves. The fourth plant is not visible.

The common milkweed always shows up by the dozens, so I can’t honestly say that there are more than ever. But there are a lot, and that is good enough.

The edge of a garden, with a half dozen one-foot milkweeds in front of other types of native plants.

The prairie milkweed has never done much, but the two plants are back, so I’m happy.

One milkweed plant with leaves standing nearly straight up.

So far, I’ve seen less butterfly weed than before. But it is always a late bloomer compared to the others, so maybe there’s still time for more to pop up.

Four short, light-green, hairy plants.

Added together, there are hundreds of milkweeds in the front and back garden, which makes for great habitat for monarchs.

Now it’s caterpillar season. My garden has been fortunate to host possibly two dozen (or more) from this first generation of 2019. Even the whorled milkweed, with its skinny leaves, has four residents.

These four jack-in-the-pulpits seem to have just had an argument and none of them can stand to even look at each other.

four green flowers, each facing in slightly a different direction, including two backwards

(Or should it be jacks-in-the-pulpit? jacks-in-the-pulpits? There are multiple jacks and multiple pulpits.)

The one on the far left even looks like he’s just exclaimed “Humph!” and is scowling like Sam Eagle of the Muppets.

two green flowers, one with its spathe perfectly in position to appear like a face with a sneer

Less than a week ago, the third one looked like this cool guy:

closeup of a green flower with its spathe swooshing out in front

Now, he’s so upset he’s off-kilter:

a green flower facing backwards, its right side lower than its left

Spring is right around the corner, so I’d better quickly document what happened in the garden last year.

The jack-in-the-pulpit is becoming established! Many are growing now:

3 jack-in-the-pulpits blooming.

Whorled milkweed wasn’t new to my garden this year, but it really took off after we put up chicken-wire fence to keep out the snacking rabbits. A few of the dozens of plants even bloomed!

Blurry image of small white flowers.

The teeny-tiny whorled milkweed flowers turned into teeny-tiny seedpods:

A hand holding 3 long, thin pods that are starting to open.

Similarly, poke milkweed isn’t new, but this was the first year it flowered. Such interesting, claw-like blooms! This flower didn’t produce any seeds.

Closeup of a cluster of white flowers that hang down.

Common milkweed covered in ants (this was the only time I saw this behavior, and it was only on this one flower cluster):

Cluster of pink flowers with dozens of tiny ants.

A candy-stripe spider with its prey, a Japanese beetle, in a shelter created from a milkweed leaf:

View through the end of a curved leaf, with an upside-down spider in front of an upside-down beetle.

Our two-toned butterfly weed changed this year, due to street maintenance that dug a big hole in the front yard. When the soil was returned, the plant came back, but rotated! Previously, the dark orange half was on the left, and the light orange half was on the right.

One plant with orange flowers, light on the top and dark on the bottom.

I didn’t know that native false indigo is a shrub until I added one to my yard in 2017. The plant is several feet across and has woody stems. One flower spike appeared in 2018:

Zoomed in on a dark-purple spike of flowers.

This tiger lily was a surprise. I didn’t even know the plant was there until it looked like this. I must have planted bulbs, but that would have been years ago.

One bright-orange flower in the middle of tall green plants.

New critters

Long-horned bees sleeping under a black-eyed susan:

4 black bees with thin white stripes, hanging upside-down on the underside of orange petals.

This little hitchhiker ended up on my capris after I strolled through the garden one evening. I decided to upload it to iNaturalist to see if anyone could help identify it — and I didn’t even have to wait for a live person because iNaturalist automagically suggested a name, genista broom moth. Sure enough, a host plant is baptisia, which I would have passed on my walk through the flowers.

A long, thin greenish-yellow caterpillar. It has hairs sticking out of black-and-white spots along both sides of the length of its body.

That was the only one I saw for awhile, but soon there were dozens, spinning webs and eating the leaves and, well, pooping a lot, as caterpillars do.

Caterpillar on a chewed leaf that is tied to two other leaves with dozens of thin silk strands.

Later I found these two cocoons — one on the plant (I accidentally snapped off this leaf but then carefully tucked it back in) and one in a towel that was drying after wiping condensation from car windows. Not sure if either is from these caterpillars.

It took awhile to find what was eating the joe-pye weed leaves, since the culprit blends in so well. It’s a plume moth caterpillar, and the joe-pye weed bloomed just fine despite the holey leaves.

Small, light-green caterpillar resting on a leaf, with a larger leaf nearby with many large holes.

“Yellow woolly bear” caterpillar, larva of the Virginia tiger moth:

A short caterpillar with segments that look like bubbles, and lots of hairs that look sharp.

We’ve had goldenrods for a few years, but this was the first time I noticed a gall where an insect, cleverly named a goldenrod gall fly, created shelter. There were about a dozen of these in our garden:

Closeup of a large, green globe shape growing out of a stem, with small leaves growing out the top.

A well-camouflaged leafhopper:

A semicircle shape on the stem of a hyssop plant. Its body appears to have veins like a leaf.

A beautiful wasp:

A black insect with a long, thin body hanging below a goldenrod.

A red-belted bumble bee (Bombus rufocinctus):

A been on a joe-pye weed bloom, facing away from the camera, with bright-orange bottom segments.

A tiny snail:

A black body poking out of a small, round brown shell.

A spider camped out on the poke milkweed:

A large brown spider with white bands on its legs, appearing to hover in front of a milkweed plant.

A hummingbird moth:

A large insect at the edge of a monarda blossom.

But wait — did you notice something else in that photo? The hummingbird moth had been caught by an ambush bug:

Same image as the previous one, but with most blurred to focus on a round, flat, green insect with a brown stripe, at the top of the hummingbird moth.

And this surprise, sitting at my eye level on a joe-pye weed leaf, not acknowledging my existence but letting me take its photo:

Side view of a green-and-gray frog.

Previous garden recaps

A woman smiles while holding a net and wearing waders in water past her knees.Nothing like getting a 2018 recap in under the wire! I’m a Minnesota master naturalist volunteer and spend a lot of time throughout the year volunteering for environmental events. It’s a requirement to complete at least 40 volunteer hours (plus 8 continuing education hours) to remain an active member, but it’s also one of the most fun and rewarding things I do every year.

Many of my 2018 volunteer hours were stewardship, as in the previous two years. But this year, I also did a lot of citizen science activities, too. I recorded one education/interpretation event, co-leading a buckthorn removal event and info session for the capstone project of my second Minnesota master naturalist class. (Much more on the class later.) And I had one program support event.

Stewardship events are noted with (S), citizen science with (CS), education/interpretation with (E/I), and program support with (PS).

January 20, Lost Valley Prairie SNA (S): Buckthorn burn! And other non-prairie trees and grapevine, too, that had been collected previously and added to during the burning.

Large pile of sticks and branches, with some orange fire visible in the middle, and a plume of smoke at top right.

March 3, Roseville’s Central Park (S): Hauled buckthorn that other volunteers lopped and sawed.

Four small stumps cut down to the snow level.

March 12, White Bear Lake Seed Library (PS): Packaged donated prairie coreopsis (coreopsis palmata) seed for the White Bear Lake Seed Library, which is in its third season. It’s fun to see how the native plant section has grown even since last year. I “checked out” two native grasses and one sedge; I’ve “checked in” joe-pye weed and yellow coneflower in the past.

A paper plate with two dozen small piles of seeds, on top of a sheet of labels and two small brown envelopes.

March 24, Lost Valley Prairie SNA (S): Brush cutting, treating, and burning.

A gloved hand holding a bundle of sticks with long, sharp thorns.

May 3, Lebanon Hills Regional Park (S): First garlic mustard pull of the season. The spring is so late, the plants were small and easily confused with a buttercup.

A gloved hand holding a garlic mustard seedling with a long root.

May 5, Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden (S): Very warm early-spring afternoon for pulling garlic mustard in a bowl just outside the garden. The commute was extra-long because 94 was closed in downtown Minneapolis.

Two clear, large plastic bags half-full with green plants.

May 11, Hyland Lake Park Reserve (S): Pulled narrowleaf bittercress, a new one for me that is so far only found in the metro area in Minnesota. Small plants so far this year, but parts of the woods just in from the trail were pretty thick. Also pulled some garlic mustard along the trail.

A short green plant with many stems that look like a small fountain.

May 12, Roseville’s Villa Park (S): Garlic mustard pull.

An area about 5 feet wide and 3 feet deep, filled with medium-height garlic mustard plants.

May 16, Hampton Woods WMA (S): Garlic mustard pull with Friends of the Mississippi River, with a little bit of buckthorn seedling pulling for good measure. There were way too many volunteers for the amount of work, so this was mostly a hike (entire event was 2 hours). In fact, I didn’t even pull any garlic mustard; I sought out buckthorn instead.

Buckthorn seedlings laying across a log.

May 31, Minneapolis’s Ole Olson Park (S): Dug and pulled weeds (Canadian horseweed and black medic and dandelions) from the demonstration prairie on the west bank of the Mississippi River, just north of downtown Minneapolis, with Friends of the Mississippi River.

A gloved hand holding a bouquet of weeds with the river in the background.

June 12, Coldwater Spring (S): Pulled narrowleaf bittercress, which had grown significantly since I saw it a month ago (in a different park). Trying to get as much of it as possible before the long seed pods ripen and burst.

A tall green plant with spiky seed pods. Looks nothing like the short fountain plant from a month earlier.

June 17, Como Regional Park (CS): Kickoff of the 2018 bumble bee surveying season. I found 5 or 6 (lost count) of the 19 the group collected. Today was hot and muggy and we found all except one on white clover (the exception was motherwort), maybe because not much else is blooming right now.

A hand holding a bumble bee in an upside-down plastic container on the grass.

June 22, Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge, Rapids Lake Unit (CS): Bioblitz in the new Anderson-Lenzen Tracts adjacent to the Rapids Lake Unit. I had a morning appointment so joined a group after their lunch break, when they headed to a new area. We recorded 84 species of wildflowers, grasses, trees, birds, and insects.

Slender beardtongue, Penstemon gracilis.

July 7, Como Regional Park (CS): Sunny morning collecting bumble bees with my niece and about 10 other volunteers. Many more flowers were in bloom than the last time I participated, so we gathered 99 bees compared with 19 just three weeks earlier. All were of the three most common species, and most were found on monarda.

View over the left shoulder of a woman with a small, upside-down plastic container surrounding a purple flower.

July 8, Como Regional Park (CS): Wasn’t planning to collect bumble bees two days in a row, but when Elaine Evans said she was going to try something a little different, I had to see the results. This time, we 10 volunteers collected all the bumble bees we could find, including ones with a red dot that showed they had been counted on a previous day. (Today’s bees were marked with purple, and we did not re-collect those ones.) It was a lot hotter, and there were a few more bees this time. Of the more than 100 collected, only about 1/3 had been caught previously. We found the three most common species again, plus two that weren’t found yesterday. Again, most were on the monarda.

A hand holding three small upside-down plastic containers.

July 10, Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary (S): Muggy evening of snipping Canadian thistle (already in seed) and burdock (in bud).

An orange plastic bag full of thistles.

July 19, Shoreview’s Island Lake Elementary: Maintenance of a full-sun native pollinator garden, with the Big River Big Woods chapter of Wild Ones.

Rattlesnake master.

July 27, Lilydale Regional Park (CS): Beautiful afternoon for collecting dragonfly nymphs for the Dragonfly Mercury Project study of mercury in national parks. The amount of mercury found in these insects can be an indicator of the health of the ecosystem.

A large black nymph and a small green nymph in a shallow dish of water.

July 29, Como Regional Park (CS): Sunny day, not too hot, lots of flowers, lots of bees. The group collected, marked, and released about 150 bumble bees, with six species represented, but no rusty-patched.

A bumble bee in a small upside-container next to a cup plant flower.

August 5, Lebanon Hills Regional Park (CS): My first MycoBlitz! And only the second ever in Minnesota. My husband and I helped collect fungi for the MN Mycoflora Project and eventually for Bell Museum’s mycological collection. Started with a long presentation on mushrooms and then a demonstration on how to collect.

A table covered with small sheets of paper, each with a mushroom.

August 6, Crow-Hassan Park Reserve (CS): Bumblebee survey with a lot of Three Rivers Park District staff, in two locations of the park. We were there 2.5 hours, but there were too many bees for the identifiers to keep up. Absolutely gorgeous day — sunny and 80 — with flowers blooming that I’ve collected seeds from in previous years.

A bumble bee flying to an anise hyssop spike.

August 9, Shoreview’s Island Lake Elementary (S): Maintenance of a full-sun native pollinator garden with the Big River Big Woods chapter of Wild Ones. This beautiful yellow garden spider was so patient with the five of us who were taking her photo.

A yellow garden spider in a large web between plants.

August 25, Crow-Hassan Park Reserve (S): Seed collection — purple and white prairie clover, round-headed bush clover, leadplant, and cinquefoil — for Three Rivers Park District. A PBS crew was filming the event.

A cluster of leadplants with green leaves and seeds ready for collection.

September 5, Phalen Regional Park (S): Seed collection — bottlebrush grass, Golden Alexanders, and boneset — with Saint Paul Natural Resources.

A thumb and finger pinching the bottom of a bottlebrush grass.

September 6, three parks (CS): Coyote howling survey with Mississippi National River & Recreation Area! Emailed description: “Each night we will visit three separate stations, each at least 2.5 km (1.5 mi) apart. Volunteer positions: data recorder, audio recorder, game caller operator, and bearing recorder. Upon arriving at the station, we will have a minute of silence to allow the night to settle around our disturbance. Using the game caller we will play a pre-recorded coyote sound three times each followed by 90 seconds of listening. If at any point a coyote responds we will move on to the next station. Note: there is a chance no coyotes will respond during a survey — remember that no responses is still good data!” Results: A confirmed coyote response at the first station — a group yip-howl that goes on for at least 40 seconds. This was the only observed coyote response of the 9 attempts.

Photo of the skyline at dusk, with native plants such as gray-headed coneflower in silhouette.

September 18, Inver Grove Heights’s River Heights Park (S): Buckthorn and honeysuckle lopping/hauling with Friends of the Mississippi River.

A long pile of brush, neatly stacked.

September 22, Inver Grove Heights’s Heritage Village Park (S): National Public Lands Day stop 1: Collecting switchgrass and little bluestem seeds with Friends of the Mississippi River.

Switchgrass seedheads against a bright blue sky.

September 22, Lost Valley Prairie SNA (S): National Public Lands Day stop 2: collecting grass and flower seeds for Lost Valley Prairie Scientific and Natural Area. First time I had seen Virginia mountain mint and false gromwell.

10 people in a grass field.

September 23, Wild River State Park (S): Seed collection with a friend (and several people we didn’t know) in a restored prairie on a sunny autumn afternoon. Thimblewood, round-headed bush clover, purple and white prairie clover, blazingstar, and more.

Closeup of round-headed bush clover seedheads.

September 25, South Creek near Farmington (S): Volunteers planted plugs in the floodplain forest along South Creek, a tributary of the Vermillion River, with Friends of the Mississippi River.

A flat of mixed native plant plugs.

Summer 2018 (CS): Raised and tagged 5 monarchs from the migration generation.

A monarch with a tag on its right wing on an orange flower.

October 20, Carleton College Cowling Arboretum (E/I): Planning, marketing, and leading a volunteer buckthorn pull, the capstone project for my Big Woods, Big Rivers biome course, with three classmates. We marketed the event with fliers in local businesses, posted on Nextdoor and the Minnesota Master Naturalist calendar, and personally invited friends and family. We created a brochure that described buckthorn and honeysuckle, two invasive species found in the arboretum, with procedure for removal. Attendees were able to take the brochure with them, and the arboretum may post it on their website as a printable resource. The day of the event was sunny but cold, and 12 people volunteered for up to 3 hours. We described how to identify buckthorn to the volunteers and demonstrated how to remove it. Since the attendees showed up at different times, we waited until a “coffee break” to talk further about buckthorn and why it’s a problem, as well as about other opportunities to participate at the arboretum. Unfortunately, one of our group members was out of town on the scheduled day, so here’s the other three of us posing in front of the long pile of removed buckthorn:

Three women posing in front of a pile of buckthorn branches.

And that all adds up to… well, I’m not sure. (I haven’t finished entering my hours after September 18 yet; sorry, MNat office!) It’s more than the required 40 hours, even without travel time. I’ll update this once I’ve calculated the total.

Previous volunteer recaps

In 2017 there was so much monarch activity going on in the front yard, I honestly couldn’t keep up with all the eggs, caterpillars, and butterflies. It was a very entertaining change compared to the previous year, when I found only one caterpillar!

The season started really early, with a monarch laying eggs on May 26. I watched at least eight or nine of them (it’s not always easy to find all of them at once to count them) grow up into full-sized caterpillars ready to pupate.

Most of this action happened on the common milkweed. After spotting six eggs on one butterfly weed, I only found caterpillars there once or twice.

For the first time, I saw caterpillars eating not just the leaves of milkweed plants, but the flowers or flower buds, too. This one was likely one of the eggs from the May generation:


(If you can’t use the embedded video above, watch a monarch caterpillar eating common milkweed buds on YouTube.)

The monarch caterpillars, and the American Lady caterpillars, too, managed to ride out a hailstorm in mid-June:

Caterpillar recovering from a hailstorm, facing upward on a milkweed stem, its antennae slicked back.

In previous years I had planted swamp milkweed seeds in the front yard but never saw them appear. In the backyard, I had tried a couple of other varieties such as whorled and the “hello yellow” butterfly weed cultivar, but they were either eaten or overtaken by weeds. Last year, I decided to get serious about trying other milkweed varieties, to not rely too heavily on common milkweed, which often fades too early for the later monarch generations. So in June I picked up a few new milkweeds at the Landscape Revival plant sale: poke, prairie, and whorled (along with a couple non-milkweeds).

Five small potted plants in a row.

Some other time that I’ve already forgotten, I also picked up Sullivant’s and showy. I decided to fence in these new plants (the chicken-wire is not easily seen in this photo, though)…

Late-afternoon sun shining on a garden that is mostly woodchips with some small green plants, with a knee-high fence surrounding.

… and that seemed to make a difference — not only did all of these survive, so did the whorled from years past that I thought was lost, as well as a couple of others that were not planted this year and so I’m not sure what they were. One was a butterfly weed that may have been the old hello yellow or may have been from seed that wandered over from the front yard. The others, I don’t remember at this point; I hope they come back and flower next year so I can find out what they are. But I know that they were milkweeds because all of these, old and new, planted and surprise, ended up with monarch eggs and then caterpillars!

One afternoon while I was giving a garden tour for my Butterfly Buddy, a monarch flew into the backyard to lay eggs. The most amusing part of her visit: she couldn’t figure out how to get over the chicken wire fence protecting the plants, so she first flew all the way around the perimeter, then landed in the middle of the fence and squeezed through one of the small wire openings! I’m really glad there was another witness for that because I’m not sure my husband believed me when I told him later (and I don’t blame him).

When I checked the plants later, I found out that not only had she picked this small showy milkweed, she chose a leaf that already had a hatchling! And on the same plant was a row of four lacewing eggs. When I went back to take a picture with a better camera, the caterpillar had already eaten the egg! That’s one way nature deals with competition, I guess.

Hand pulling a milkweed to see the underside, with a monarch caterpillar near an egg on one leaf, lacewing eggs on another leaf.

In all, I counted seven kinds of milkweed in the backyard, and this monarch laid an egg on six of them! I don’t know whether she also visited the common milkweed in the front yard, but this was a good validation for my plan to plant more species for later generations.

Poke milkweed:

Underside of two large milkweed leaves, a small caterpillars on each.

Whorled milkweed:

Lots of very narrow leaves, one with a small white egg.

Prairie milkweed:

The top of a dark-green leaf with an egg.

Sullivant’s milkweed with evidence of a caterpillar feeding:

The underside of narrow milkweed leaves, one with a small chewed hole.

Unknown milkweed:

Small milkweed with wide leaves, one with an egg underneath.

Are whorled milkweed leaves really big enough to support caterpillars? What happens when the caterpillars grow past, say, the third instar?

Hand holding the top of a whorled milkweed with a second-instar caterpillar, the leaves only as wide as the caterpillar.

Nearly all of these plants were very small, not just the whorled milkweed (which is always small, even when fully grown). The exception was the poke milkweed, which was definitely not a first-year plant when I bought it. None were big enough, or perhaps it was that they weren’t established enough, to flower. I saw many caterpillars over the next couple weeks, but as I had worried, I saw none past the third instar. I’m not sure why: not enough food, too much competition, predators, moved to another area (though the front yard is quite far away for a little caterpillar), or something else.

Possible predator?

Hand pulling down a narrow milkweed leaf with a diamond-shaped black insect.

Following that generation, the next time I saw new eggs on the backyard milkweed, I collected eight of them to raise indoors.

After this amazing season of monarchs indoors and out, I’m hoping for another good local population in 2018 and will plan to order tags for the migration generation.

Blurry monarch flying above an in-focus cup plant.

After a disappointing monarch season in 2016, I was thrilled to find many eggs and caterpillars in my yard in 2017. Some became temporary “inside” monarchs when I brought eggs indoors to raise the caterpillars and then release them outside as butterflies.

Side view of a monarch butterfly perched on joe-pye weed, facing right.

After seeing a monarch lay a dozen eggs at the end of May, and then finding many more eggs in the yard on the butterfly weed and on the common milkweed, I wanted to bring a few inside to watch them grow.

Looking down into a plastic container with three monarch butterfly caterpillars and several large common milkweed leaves.

But wouldn’t you know that after weeks of my tending to the three caterpillars, and days of watching the chrysalises, they decided to wait to emerge until I was out of town? Fortunately I have a Butterfly Buddy who was more than happy to take the chrysalises…

Three green monarch butterfly chrysalises lying on an open hand.

…and send me updates on the three beautiful butterflies!

After that adventure, I took a break from raising caterpillars during the busy-ness of the summer. There was plenty of monarch activity in the garden during that time, which I will detail soon. I waited until after a five-day family reunion to begin again, and on August 7, I collected eight monarch eggs — then figured that was enough! Four of them had already hatched by the next morning. Not sure where two of the caterpillars are in this photo:

Looking down into a plastic container with eight milkweed leaves of various sizes, with four monarch eggs and two tiny caterpillars.

An upside-down common milkweed leaf with many small holes created by four small monarch caterpillars.

It was during this period that one of the caterpillars met a sad end when I wasn’t paying enough attention while cleaning the cage and grabbed a leaf exactly at the spot where it was sitting on the other side. I tried to console myself by noting that this one was much smaller than the others and not progressing well anyway, but it still was my fault.

An upside-down common milkweed leaf with four much larger monarch caterpillars.

Three pale-green monarch chrysalises hanging from the top of a plastic cage.

In the midst of the raising of this group, on August 23, I found this newly hatched monarch caterpillar when checking out the progress of the front garden. (Good thing the common milkweed was still kicking out new leaves.)

Tiny monarch caterpillar on a small common milkweed plant.

August 30: My first release of the season!

Male monarch butterfly hanging from a cup plant flower.

A watched chrysalis never opens. Isn’t that how the saying goes? Even though there were three chrysalises like this on Sept. 1, I didn’t see any of them open!

Monarch chrysalis hanging from dental floss in a white mesh cage, just before the butterfly emerged, wings clearly visible.

But it was an exciting day, anyway, when the “three sisters” all hung out with me in the garden for the afternoon:

Three female monarch butterflies resting on a cup plant, two facing right and one facing left.

This one starred in a video chat with my nieces and nephew:

Monarch butterfly resting on a pointer finger in front of a laptop.

The next day, one emerged:

Male monarch butterfly with wings open, resting on an open hand in front of sunny black-eyed susans.

Two more were nearly ready that day, but in unfortunate timing, we were planning to leave for a weeklong trip the next day. This time I hadn’t planned ahead enough to pass them off to my Butterfly Buddy, maybe because I had optimistically thought they would have emerged sooner. So I did the next-best thing and tied the chrysalises to joe-pye weed plants so they could eclose outside and fly off on their own.

Luckily for me, one of them did emerge before we left, as I was waiting impatiently but not impatiently enough to pay close enough attention, and it was almost all the way out before I noticed. I’m always surprised at how quiet this process is; I was standing right there and didn’t hear a thing.

Monarch hanging from its chrysalis, wings full-sized and smooth.

The other one apparently emerged safely, since we found an empty chrysalis when we returned.

Before the trip, I needed to release a caterpillar into the wild, too: the single one I found in late August. It was close to being big enough to transform into a chrysalis, but not close enough:

Large monarch caterpillar crawling up the stem of a common milkweed plant.

There’s no way that six days later I would find a caterpillar that had been that large, still in caterpillar form. But it was an odd coincidence to find a fully-grown caterpillar in the same area the night we returned:

Slightly bigger monarch caterpillar upside-down under a common milkweed leaf.

Of course, I brought this one inside, too, and a day and a half later, it transformed:

Monarch caterpillar hanging in the J position from a plastic cage.

On the autumnal equinox, he became my last butterfly of the season.

Male monarch butterfly resting on a pearly everlasting plant, facing right.

Final tally

  • 3 released in the first generation
  • 8 released in the migration generation

Closeup of a monarch butterfly hanging off a joe-pye weed, facing left.

More about my monarch-raising adventures

On July 13 in the mass of black-eyed susans, I spotted more than a dozen different kinds of insects. The coolest was this one, which I believe is a camouflaged looper inchworm. Its destiny was to turn into a wavy-lined emerald moth.

Black-eyed susan with a small caterpillar at the top of the center disk, with lots of dark brown spikes sticking off its body.

This caterpillar chews off parts of plants and then attaches them to itself as a disguise.

Flower from above, with a caterpillar looped on the left side and several brown clumps attached to its body.

It was concealed so well against the flower’s dark-brown center disk, I’m not sure how I even spotted it at first!

Angled view of a flower, with a small brown clump on the opposite side of the center disk.

Though after I saw it once, I could easily find it again later the same day, and even the next day. (The accumulating quantity of frass also helped locate it.)

Caterpillar with its front end raised above the center disk.

Making its way around the ring of tiny flowers in the center disk of the black-eyed susan:

Side view of the flower, with a caterpillar on the right side, the back half of the center disk's flowers missing.

Almost finished the next day:

Side view again, caterpillar on the left side, no center disk flowers visible, but the caterpillar still appears to be eating.

I saw it crawling around a bit but unfortunately didn’t get to see any of the actual “gluing.”

Watch video on YouTube

Two more videos:

I kept checking back for this inchworm every day for a week and saw it many more times.

Top view of the flower, with the inchworm 'inched' at the top.

Top view showing two thick layers of camouflage:

Only the very top of the caterpillar showing, with two distinct ridges of material on its body.

Sometimes it was resting on a petal, and in these cases it looked nothing like a caterpillar.

Black-eyed susan with a small brown clump on one of the petals on the right, lots of frass around the center disk.

Once I thought it was gone, but then found it again on a nearby flower. This time it looked different after it apparently re-covered itself with new material.

Flower in shade apparently underneath another flower, with the caterpillar 'inched' and some lighter brown or yellow material on its body in addition to the dark brown.

And this time I saw it eating the petals, too.

Caterpillar on a petal that's curving down, reaching out to the edge.

But after that, I didn’t see it anymore. Hopefully it made its way safely to its next stage as a cocoon.

More about camouflaged looper inchworms:

On August 15 I found something in our box elder tree that is definitely not a box elder bug.

black insect perched on a leaf, with a slender abdomen longer than its body protruding from the back and curved under

A quick Google image search (“mn fly with scorpion tail”) identified it as a wasp, American Pelecinid, that looks intimidating but doesn’t have a stinger. It uses its long abdomen to dig into the ground until it finds the grub of a June beetle, and there it lays an egg that will feed on the grub.

It would be nice if it would look for Japanese beetle grubs, too.

Two weeks later, at a seed collection event, one of these insects landed on another volunteer. No one else knew anything about it, and I was so excited to share what I know about this wasp, including that it’s harmless. However, I couldn’t remember its name, and so I looked it up on my Instagram feed.

In my excitement to share, I called it a PELICAN-id wasp. It wasn’t until about five minutes later that I realized it’s probably pronounced “pell-i-SIN-id” instead. (And yes, according to a Google search, that second version is true.) I was embarrassed the rest of the event, and I don’t think I’ll forget the name again.

More about pelecinid wasps