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! 🙂

Making a Caterpillar

Are you having all this crazy rainy weather that we are getting in Ohio? Are you going bonkers with your kids shut up inside, not able to go outside to play and burn off some excess energy?? ARGH!! Here’s an idea to keep them entertained for a little while! Let’s make a caterpillar! Items you’ll need for this project are a cardboard egg carton, paint, markers or crayons, scissors and a pipe cleaner is nice, but not a have-to-have. This idea came from one of our grandsons. A few years ago he gave me a caterpillar he had made and I have kept it ever since. 🙂 I came across it again a couple days ago and thought I would share my version with you. Here is my grandson’s caterpillar:

Isn’t it cute?! He did an awesome job making it! 🙂 Now let’s show you how to make your own! Start by cutting the egg carton bottom off…and then cutting the bottom part in half lengthwise.

If your egg carton is like mine, you will need to trim a bit off of the cut side to make the caterpillar sit flat. The edge right by my finger has been cut.

Next, draw a face on one end with a black marker.

If you don’t have a pipe cleaner, you can also draw 2 lines for his antennae. Color each section using the color of your choice. You can use paint, crayons or markers.

Your caterpillar can be all one color or you can color each section a different color.

If you are using a pipe cleaner, poke 2 very small holes in the top of the head section for his antennae. I tried to use the point of a knife, but as you can see I ended up making a slice on one side instead of just a tiny hole. Oops! 😉

Cut the pipe cleaner in half and stick a piece into each hole. Push it through far enough that you can bend the end over a few times on the inside of the head to keep the antenna from pulling back out. Pull the pipe cleaner pieces back up so most of the piece is sticking up above the caterpillar’s head.

Roll the top end of each piece of pipe cleaner into a spiral and your caterpillar is done!

For an added bit of fun, you could read “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” by Eric Carle while your little one holds her/his caterpillar. 🙂

I would love to see your caterpillars if you would care to share your pictures with me!