Monarch New Beginnings

It’s that most wonderful time of the year again! No, I’m not talking about Christmas. It’s the time of year when the Monarch butterflies have come back into the United States from wintering over in Mexico. The females are laying eggs on their favorite plants and people all over are doing their part to help the Monarch caterpillars survive to become butterflies. The number of Monarch butterflies has greatly declined over the last decade. It’s a great feeling to know you are helping to preserve these beautiful butterflies! And so, let’s take a peek at how the process gets started. Monarchs like the Milkweed plants and the female Monarch butterflies will lay their eggs on Milkweed. Here are a couple types of Milkweed that grow around where we live in Ohio.

Common Milkweed. This plant will grow wild along roadsides and its fun to watch as you travel around and see how many Common Milkweed plants you can find.

Swamp Milkweed. This plant I purchased from a greenhouse and planted in my flowerbed in hopes of bringing the Monarch butterflies close by where we could see and help them.

Butterfly Milkweed. This plant I also bought at a store and planted in my flowerbed in hopes of drawing the Monarchs here. Aren’t the little orange flowers so pretty?

When you see these types of milkweed plants, look at the leaves and see if you see any Monarch caterpillars crawling around on them. They are often on the under side of the leaves. What does a Monarch caterpillar look like? Here is a picture of some Monarch caterpillars that are partially grown.

But I’m getting the cart before the horse! Whoa, back up there! When you see milkweed plants, not only should you look for the Monarch caterpillars, but you should look for their eggs. They are usually on the bottom side of the leaves too. They are super tiny so they are easy to miss seeing. Can you find the egg in this picture?

Yep, that little dot on the leaf over on the left hand side of the picture is a Monarch caterpillar egg. 🙂 We’ll call the egg the first step in the process. So the next step is when the egg hatches. The caterpillar that hatches from that tiny egg is so small it can be very hard to see it. I tried to take a close up picture of one that had just hatched. It’s rather hard to make it out, but that black dot is the caterpillar’s head.

The baby caterpillar will first eat the egg it hatched from and then they will look around for some milkweed to munch on. Milkweed is the only plant that a Monarch caterpillar will eat. There are 4 caterpillars in this next picture. Can you find all 4? 2 of them are super little! The other 2 have been around for a few days.

Here is another picture of a caterpillar that is really small, but bigger than the newly hatched ones. You can also see 3 more caterpillars that are older.

So now you know what plants to look at to see if you can find any Monarch caterpillars or eggs. And you know how super super tiny they are when they hatch. We’ll take a look at watching them grow on another day’s blog post. Happy hunting! 🙂

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