Sep 28, 2020
A newly hatched monarch butterfly rests on a milkweed plant
My family and I became monarch parents during the past six months. We feel that the last one of the season emerged from its chrysalis on Sunday. It's been a fun experience that didn't require cleaning a litter box or going for walks two or three times a day. As a side note, we had all varieties of animals and pets over the last twenty years. I wanted a break from all the animals in our home. So I instituted a moratorium on new family members when our chinchilla past away a few years ago.
Raising monarch caterpillars, and then watching over the chrysalis, took on a meaning similar to taking care of the pets we have had over the years. We checked on the caterpillars several times a day and made sure that when one group of milkweed plants were stripped clean, they could move to another. We fretted when we found what we thought was a dead caterpillar on the ground. Turns out, it was the molted skin of a slightly larger caterpillar that was happily munching away on the milkweed. We totally freaked out when a wasp swooped in and stung a caterpillar, killing it immediately. I mean, really, what the hell? We felt sadness when a chrysalis turned dark, and the butterfly, dying inside, never emerged.
With one caterpillar still making its way around the milkweed a few weeks ago, we were happy to have another shot at this. The wasps posed the most significant threat. I built a wood frame from scraps of lumber, then covered it with door screen material and set it over the milkweed plants. It worked at keeping the wasps away and the caterpillar safe. We checked on it several times a day, every day, and measured its progress. Last week the caterpillar climbed to the top of its screened-in pen, molted for the final time, and formed a chrysalis.
Sunday morning, the chrysalis turned clear, and we could see the butterfly inside. By late morning the chrysalis turned dark, and the monarch emerged. It clung to the inside of the enclosure for three hours or so, drying its wings and finally taking a test flight. After the successful test flight, I turned the pen on its side, and the butterfly - walked out. That wasn't what I expected. It stood there, on the outside of the enclosure, and waited. I wish I knew what it was waiting for.
The butterfly flew away, and it was gone. I was kinda happy, kinda sad. Happy there is one more monarch in the wild, and we helped do that! Sad that this is probably the last one this year since we haven't seen anymore, and the one we raised didn't hang around. But what I know about monarchs and their seasons? Not much at all really, just what I have learned over the last several months.
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