If you plant* it, they will come

If you know I’m talking about milkweed plants, then you know who “they” are: monarch butterflies. And I’m here to confirm the statement that “if you plant* it, they will come.”

* By “plant” I mean “common milkweed started growing in my yard and I didn’t pull it out,” though I would have planted it if it didn’t show up on its own. We’ve had butterfly weed for years, last year we added whorled milkweed and another that has lost its tag so I don’t remember its name, and this year we added swamp milkweed. So I’m a big fan of milkweed.

three sets of buds on a common milkweed

Last year we had a few milkweed plants, and this year that turned into at least 35, with more still sprouting even into July. Bugs love it.

And though we’ve seen monarchs in the past, I had never found any caterpillars. Until now.

There was evidence on more than one common milkweed plant – chewed leaves as well as frass…

… but no caterpillars were spotted until I saw a photo from a new Instagram friend that prompted me to look again. That very night I found a medium-sized caterpillar…

monarch caterpillar on  the bottom of a common milkweed leaf that's standing up

and then I found a newborn:

newly emerged monarch caterpillar on common milkweed

The next day, I didn’t see those two again, but I did find a giant one 20 feet away. Of course, given the small size of this milkweed, everything looks giant in comparison.

monarch caterpillar on a small milkweed

And then I saw a medium-sized caterpillar walking through the garden nowhere near milkweed.

I picked a leaf for it and it stuck around for another day before I didn’t see it again.

monarch caterpillar on a chewed milkweed leaf on the ground

But then I noticed one on the underside of a leaf. I decided to keep my eye on it.

monarch caterpillar on the underside of a black-eyed susan leaf

And sure enough, the next day it was in the “J” formation, signaling that it was about to begin its transformation.

Later that day it was a chrysalis! It was so well camouflaged that I almost certainly wouldn’t have seen it had I not noticed the caterpillar earlier.

monarch chrysalis tucked between two black-eyed susan leaves

I checked it morning and night for days. The “monarch lifecycle” websites say that butterflies emerge after 7 to 10 days of the chrysalis stage. Seven days passed, then ten. I was losing hope until the 12th morning, when I noticed orange and black starting to show through the green.

monarch chrysalis with a barely-visible wing

And then we had to go out of town for 4th of July celebrations. When we returned, the chrysalis was empty.

monarch chrysalis after butterfly emerged

I was sad to have missed it, but I’m just glad that it was successful! Later that evening I noticed a monarch flying around our neighbor’s backyard – and I’m choosing to believe this was “our” monarch, making sure I noticed before it flew away.

monarch butterfly on tree trunk

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2 comments on “If you plant* it, they will come

  1. Oh, cool. And great photos (as always)!

  2. […] was only a matter of time before my noticing the goings-on of monarchs in the garden turned into fostering caterpillars in our […]

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