July 15th 2021
This morning, while I was working on the farm transplanting a large number of lettuce with other "master gardeners", here is one of us, Natasha, telling us how the number of butterflies has increased in her garden since she has been raising them. It immediately appealed to me. We know how much our agricultural practices and the maintenance of our gardens have dramatically reduced the populations of many of these charming pollinators.
She explains to us how she goes in search of monarch eggs under the milkweed leaves, how she collects some of those leaves, stores them, how the eggs hatch and the tiny caterpillars feed on the milkweed leaves, how the caterpillar later becomes a chrysalis and chrysalis, butterfly.
I ask her why not let nature take its course? Because butterflies, in their different stages of life, have predators and breeding protects them from them.
So, it's decided, I'll give it a try. In this article, I propose to tell the steps of my very first monarch breeding following Natasha's advices.
I spot milkweed (here it is "common milkweed" but there are different varieties). In the second photo, we see the fruits of the plant as they are in July. And I turn over the leaves in search of eggs. Small off-white dots stuck on the leaf. It seems to me that there is one at the bottom / middle of this leaf. Be careful, there are various eggs. I spotted a tiny egg hanging on a tiny thread under a milkweed leaf. It might be one of those predatory insects so hung so that they do not devour each other then they emerge. I also spotted a lot of aphids that are the same size as an egg.
I carefully harvest these leaves and place them in a large Tupperware which I close but which I will open once a day to ventilate while waiting for the eggs to hatch.
Joy, happiness, there is a tiny caterpillar that begins to eat a leaf.
The caterpillar is dead. She had put on weight, however. But there I see it all dry. I took out the leaf. I also notice that there are white spots on this leaf. Fungi? Maybe that's what killed him Natasha told me. In addition, she explains to me that a day or two after emergence, the caterpillar needs to be transferred to a whole milkweed plant. You can cut the plant, put it in a bottle filled with water and cover the opening with aluminum to prevent the caterpillar from falling into the water.
OK I can't wait to try the experience again.
During a walk, I collect a new leaf of milkweed on which a tiny monarch caterpillar feeds. And this time a day or two later I'm transferring it to a whole plant.
It eats, grows, everything is fine but after 5 days the plant begins to turn yellow. I replace it with a fresh plant.
The caterpillar is gone! Going for a walk in my kitchen. A few hours later she reappears on the window sill. This time I decide to change my strategy. To put it in a box which I close with a piece of tulle and to put fresh leaves of milkweed in it as you go. It's because I don't have a ton at home either and that will prevent me from cutting fresh plants every time. The caterpillar has grown well. She's about two inches tall. (5 cms)
In the vegetable garden, I spotted caterpillars of swallowtail butterflies on my parsley. They are very similar to those of monarchs. This is their strategy to protect themselves from predators: they pretend to be monarch caterpillars which are toxic to birds because of the milkweed they ingest. Swallowtail caterpillars are not poisonous. I take one, and I'm going to put it with my monarch caterpillar. They will keep each other company.
In the meantime, new eggs have hatched in the box, and there are two new tiny monarch caterpillars.
Note from Natasha: do not leave the large caterpillar with the tiny ones as it might inadvertently eat them. In addition, I consult her because in the box there is really starting to be a lot of caterpillar poops, does ... that suck? It is better to clean every now and then. She provides me with a large monarch cage that has enough room to fit a whole milkweed plant. I place my large monarch caterpillar there. She's at least 3 inches tall, I think she's ready to transform soon.
Top pics are my experiment at home and down are pics taken in the butterfly house at the watershed institute in Pennington.
That's it, the first monarch caterpillar fed by me has matured, it hung in the shape of a Christmas candy cane on a leaf of milkweed and when I came back to see the evening, there is no more caterpillar but a very green chrysalis. I did not see what happened. It went so fast. Death of the caterpillar and new life of the butterfly. It's both a little sad and at the same time so exciting. Natasha told me that it takes about two weeks for the butterfly to emerge. Would I have the chance to see him before I leave for France?
In the meantime, I have planned a parent / child workshop on these fantastic butterflies.