Monarch Butterfly on Milkweed
One of the great joys of gardening is the wealth of birds, butterflies, and other critters who make their homes in a typical suburban yard. I’ve long adopted a “live and let live” approach to my gardens, and seldom have serious problems with pests. (Lubber grasshoppers, gray squirrels, and exotic tree frogs, not withstanding. Stories for another day.) For the most part, I’m happy to share my flowers and herbs with most of nature’s creatures, but I have noticed that some years, predation by hungry wasps takes a toll on the numbers of caterpillars that survive to adulthood in my garden. For that reason, I keep an eye out for eggs and caterpillars that I can bring inside to raise and release. (I don’t mind the wasps getting their fair share, you understand…wasps gotta eat, too. I just don’t like it when they seem to get them all!)
This photo is one I took of a monarch butterfly shortly after I released it into the garden. I try to place the newly eclosed butterflies in a sunny, safe spot to dry their wings, before they take off on their first flight. This beauty came full circle when I put him back on the same milkweed plant I found his eyelash-sized caterpillar on a couple of weeks earlier.
Raising the caterpillars isn’t difficult, as long as you have a clean, ventilated container, and an abundance of fresh leaves from their host plants. (With monarchs, that would be plants in the milkweed family). The caterpillars eat a LOT, and you need to be prepared to check your container often to replace old foliage with fresh. The result of watching the caterpillar go through the miracle of metamorphosis is so worth it! Especially if you have little ones. I’ve never met a child yet who wasn’t thrilled with the entire process.
Have you tried raising butterflies yourself? Do you grow host plants in your garden? Share your experiences with us.