It all started in September when the kids began at their new school. I saw that the school had a beautiful campus garden that I quickly signed up to help with. In learning about the garden and meeting some of the other garden parents I was given a little lesson on Milkweed, one of the plants that grows in the school's garden. I was told how it is the only plant that Monarch butterflies lay their eggs on and the main plant that Monarch caterpillars eat. So I decided to plant some in our own back yard and see what the excitement was all about. We bought our two Milkweed plants at Lowe's and we planted them this past September. Our Milkweed plants have been easy to keep alive and have grown very quickly.
It wasn't until early January when we first caught sight of a Monarch caterpillar crawling around on our Milkweed. He was already full grown and hard to miss! The kids and I were very excited and we checked on it several times a day. They eat a lot and take large enough bites that you can actually see the leaf disappear as they are eating.
About five days after we first spotted him we found that he had attached himself to a Milkweed seed pod with a cluster of silk and he hung in the shape of a J. I knew this meant he was going to soon change into a chrysalis.
Here is a simple digram of the Monarch life cycle.
He hung in that J shape for a couple of days before we found him no longer a caterpillar but as a complete chrysalis. You guys, I'm 33 years old and I found this amazing! Tell me I'm not alone. If this makes me a nerd, well then so be it. Both my six and nine year old have found this process fascinating. They've both experienced some form of butterfly cycle kits in past classrooms but seem much more amazed by watching the natural process happening in their own back yard.
The chrysalis was the longest and hardest part to wait out. We would check it several times a day with no change. We had a couple crazy wind storms that I thought would for sure blow our little chrysalis away, but it survived. One evening, about two weeks after it first changed to a chrysalis, we found that it had turned dark and you could see through to the orange wings. I knew this meant that within the next 24 hours or so a butterfly would emerge.
The next day I remembered about mid-morning to go check on it, and sure enough I found a freshly emerged Monarch butterfly. I knew it had to have recently happened because it's wings were small and still crumpled up.
I decided to stay and watch as it's wings filled out. It was so awesome. I was so sad the kids were at school and missing this part. At least they can always count on me for an abundance of photos. Haha.
While I was observing the butterfly change I found that we had a new chrysalis on the wall above where our Milkweed plants are. So, while the Monarch butterfly will lay eggs on and the caterpillars enjoy eating the Milkweed, they may apparently wander off before turning into a chrysalis.
After about an hour the butterfly began to move. It climbed around on the Milkweed and began to open and close it's now large wings.
It didn't fly away though. The coolest thing was that it stayed on the plant until Avery got home from school and right as we walked out to see if it may still be there, she spotted it, and then it flew away. Avery got to see it take it's first flight. So fun.
If you are at all intrigued by this awesome process, I promise all you need to do is plant Milkweed in your yard and the Monarchs will take care of the rest for you!
During this process I have educated myself on these beautiful creatures and have become aware that their numbers have been dwindling in massive amounts over the past few years. I just read this interesting article on the topic. So, not only will it be a fun experience for you and your family to plant Milkweed, but you will be helping the Monarchs have more places to lay eggs, eat, and live out their life cycle! And hopefully helping them to increase their population again.
The above linked article ends with this quote that I want to share.
“I have a 3-year-old whose eyes pop wide open” when she sees monarchs crawling on leaves in their back yard, O’Mara said. “This is one of those keystone species. These are things that don’t make headlines, but they are indicators that something bigger is happening.”