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.”

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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