Plant It and They Will Come 4 Monarch Pollinator Life Cycles

annapolis, MD(Zone 7b)

We came from here:

We have had a few reports of Monarch sightings and some garden lingerings amongst our Milkweed and nectar plants. More Swallowtails have begun to show up, and plenty of Skippers, Cabbage Whites, Moths bees and Bumble Bees. Still the numbers are way down and way off timing wise from what many of us across the country and around here had assumed was typical.

As Greenthumb wrote "On another note, I was at a meeting at Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy today. While no data has been collected yet about the numbers of Monarch cats raised, the folks there who have raised many cats in the past all said that they have been unable to find any to bring inside this year. The monarch situation is looking especially grim currently. Also, low butterfly populations in general this year have been noted by all. This past winter is thought to be a major factor."

I believe the next 6 - 10 weeks are critical for building up numbers of the over wintering populations of our pollinators. I also believe that there are things we can do now that will help there be more next year!
If there are mated mammas and eggs and larva out therethere, they will need safe places to pupate in addition to host and nectar plants.

Your thoughts?

Thumbnail by coleup
Silver Spring, MD(Zone 7a)

Thanks, Coleup! Any suggestions on what we can do?

I'm not good yet at spotting either eggs or caterpillars; the only cats I've ever found are BSTs, although I'm sure there must be others in my yard!

My 2 BST cats are doing well in the mason jar. Going through lots of parsley! :-)

Lucketts, VA(Zone 7a)

As much as we have been conditioned to have our gardens look "neat", this is far from the natural environment. Many species of butterflies and other insects we desire to have in our world overwinter in the dried, above-ground portions of plants that have died back for the season.

In effect, what we do is plant to attract these species, give them the plants they over-winter on, then clear these plants away and eliminate the reproduction of these insect species for the following year. Kind of like a very sophisticated Japanese beetle trap, where one attracts and eliminates. If we really want to foster the populations of beneficial and otherwise desired insect species, we need to be more accepting of the untidy look of winter debris and delay our clean-up until spring rather than fall.

This message was edited Aug 14, 2014 1:55 PM

Silver Spring, MD(Zone 7a)

Totally agree Greenthumb.

Baltimore, MD(Zone 7a)

Judy or David---

Saw this caterpillar strolling over the bricks oin my shed landing.
Don't know where he was headed....????

I put him on a small piece of decayed wood so i could take these pictures.
What moth or butterfly..or whatever.. is this cat to????

I tried to make it 'at home" in a small plastic container with the piece of wood,
that it would not let go of, and put some parsley stems in it.

Pic #3 is of the ONLY Swallowtail cat I have at this time. haven't seen any more...
He/she will be very lonely.....I have quite a few swallowtails in my garden...
mostly the yellows. Have already picked up 3 perfect specimens (dead) on
my patio floor. They are so beautiful!!!

I See a dark ones too now and then. don't have one for my collection yet....

Thumbnail by Gitagal Thumbnail by Gitagal Thumbnail by Gitagal
Lucketts, VA(Zone 7a)

Gita, I think your blue cat is an Orange-Striped Oakworm, Anistota senatoria. See:

Quoting a reference I have: "Prepupal caterpillars...may wander considerable distances before selecting a pupation site, where they will entomb themselves in the ground for nine months."

Guessing that the cat was on its way to find a place to pupate, so it won't be hungry.

This message was edited Aug 14, 2014 6:38 PM

Baltimore, MD(Zone 7a)

Thank you once more-David!!! You are such a wealth of information...

You are right on on the ID.
There is much loose soil; around the bricks and the foundation of my shed...
that in another 15 minutes--this cat would have accomplished his trek.
And--right there is also my bed of Cukes and tomatoes...with great soil in them.

Two houses to the Eeast of mine have many of the original Oaks still standing.
They were here before the homes were built. (1969). Not sure if they are White oaks...
or Red oaks. But they may be.

SO--I suppose a "squish" of my shoe is in order--as this is not a "good guy"...
Or--a bit less gory--a whack of the shovel and it will be cut in half.
Then i can toss it for the birds to eat....or in the trash.


Silver Spring, MD(Zone 7a)

My larger BST Cat is getting ready to pupate! :-) Smaller one now has the parsley all to him/herself while Big settles into the prepupation 'hook'.

Vienna, VA(Zone 7a)

How fun that you have BST Cats, Cat! I've been keeping my eyes open for caterpillars, but haven't seen any yet.

About not tidying up gardens...last year I left the Black-eyed Susan stalks up for a few months and then cut them down and made a kind of lean-to out of them to provide food and shelter for birds until spring.

My sunflowers are about 10 feet tall and might not stand upright for long when winter sets in. Is it okay for the overwintering insects if I cut them down and lean them against my fence? I could give them plenty of space so they don't compost.

It's great having a wild, messy area in my yard where I can leave things like that.. I just spotted a 4' tall mystery tree or shrub at the top of the hill. How I missed seeing it long enough for it to get that tall is beyond me!

Silver Spring, MD(Zone 7a)

thanks, Muddy. I was delighted to find them on my parsley. I'm leaving more things standing than I used to. I've been wondering the same thing about cutting things down and overwintering pollinators.

Lucketts, VA(Zone 7a)

Many creatures overwinter in the hollow stems of dead plant stalks, so doing as Muddy allows for insects to survive, unlike composting. Probably better than cutting and then composting too early in the spring.

Silver Spring, MD(Zone 7a)

thanks, Greenthumb and Muddy. Sounds like a good solution--lean them against something so they don't get composted over.

Lucketts, VA(Zone 7a)

Have seen where it is recommended to lay cut stalks on an elevated surface and cover to protect from the weather. Such configurations are said to also provide warm weather nesting for solitary bees and other pollinators.

Silver Spring, MD(Zone 7a)

Good idea, Greenthumb. Any recommendations on what to cover with?

Silver Spring, MD(Zone 7a)

I left everything standing last year (except for peonies which were cut back), and found so many praying mantis egg sacs, all over the yard. And this spring I was rewarded with tons of baby praying mantises! Maybe that's why i haven't seen any aphids this year.

annapolis, MD(Zone 7b)

And Catmint, I think you already said that you were going lighter on the mulch. Many insects need bare soil to burrow into for the winter.

Here I have been faithfully monitoring milkweed patches I know about for any signs of Monarch activity. My own plants have been carefully scrutinized for aphids (squish) and other bugs that can harm plants or Monarch eggs or cats. and prompt removal of any not right or diseased leaves so I can have healtyest food source.

After the visits two days in a row by one lingering Monarch I reallywas on the look out for eggs. Couldn't find any but did notice very small holes in several leaves which when turned over held very tiny Monarch cats!!!!! I literally had to use my magnifying glass to see the little grey cats which I collected by bringing each leaf inside to a protective enclosure. By morning they had changed from new hatched grey to their characteristic multi striped selves. Have 10 of them munching away!

On Monday while harvesting fresh leaves for them, I noticed a very small white dot on the underside of one, and again using my magnifying glass saw the classic shape of a Monarch egg and then found three more. Brought them in too. Then we had the heavy rains. Last night I found 24 more!

Pic is borrowed from yikes I lost the cite...will add later.

Thumbnail by coleup
Silver Spring, MD(Zone 7a)

Good job, SSG! I'll do something similar this year.

Coleup, wonderful about more baby monarchs! i haven't seen anything yet on my milkweed but still learning about what to look for...

annapolis, MD(Zone 7b)

Middle of the nite I awoke and did some 'numbers'.

If these 36 are the Third Generation that will produce the Fourth Generation which will migrate, then these 36 could offspring 6000 who could then become 900,000 migrators from the Mid Atlantic in October!.

If estimates are correct, each cat will eat somewhere around 20 milkweed leaves to reach aduthood which I have translated into 200 - 300 square inches of healthy Milkweed leaves and oodles of super rich nectar plants along the migration path to sustain journey to Mexico.

Each of the 200 milkweeds I have growing this year have about 80 sq inches of leaves which may be enough to feed the 36 on hand.

All hands on Deck!! May soon need some Monarch fosterers in our neck of the woods....

Baltimore, MD(Zone 7a)

Judy---Judy-Judy----do you ever rest from all these statistics of the
migration stuff? Good grief!!!

I would have many other things I would rather do in the middle of the night--
Like sleeping....

There was a Monarch Butterfly flying around my yard and house today.
It was about 5:15PM. I think I walked around my house twice--trying to see if it would land
somewhere--camera in hand. It just flitted and flew and zig-zagged all over--
checking out many of the flowers--but not stopping.
Sat on an orange Zinnia for about 10 seconds--and off it went.

How come it never even paid attention to my blooming tropical Ascilepsis???
I have not even seen any Butterflies on it!

Well--just wanted to let you know for your "statistics keeping" that one of them was HERE!


Silver Spring, MD(Zone 7a)

Coleup, I had a dream last night that I found lots of baby Monarch caterpillars on my Milkweed! :-) Here's hoping for those 6000! :-)

Vienna, VA(Zone 7a)

Coleup, my neighbors would be more than happy to let Monarch cats munch on their milkweeds. As far as I've seen, the Tussock Moth caterpillars haven't made a dent in their plants.

I read somewhere that Monarchs prefer to lay their eggs on young milkweeds, and their plants are very established, but I imagine that hungry caterpillars won't care much.

I think I can find milkweed in the woods near me (Fairfax County planted some), and I have 3 large MW plants with no cats.

Silver Spring, MD(Zone 7a)

Yes, Coleup, if you're thinking about monarch cat foster homes, I'm here... ;-)

Damascus, MD(Zone 7a)

1. Swallowtail Cat - I found 9 of them on the parsley last year. They were bigger and more recognizable when I spotted them. Otherwise, I wouldn't have known what they were - had never seen a swallowtail cat before. So I was looking out for them this year. This photo was taken 2 weeks ago. There were 5 of them.

2. A week later - This was taken last weekend. It is amazing how fast they grew. I put the parsley pot under the metal patio table to protect them from birds. They are all gone now. Hopefully they have found good spots for the next stage of life.

Thumbnail by donnerville Thumbnail by donnerville
Silver Spring, MD(Zone 7a)

great photos, Donner!

annapolis, MD(Zone 7b)

Catmint and Muddy bless your responses to "All Hands On Deck"..Certainly now that Monarchs are being seen in our area is no time to rest. If I potentially have enough Monarchs to raise a million (With lots and lots and lots of help and milkweed and nectar and and there maybe 40 or 50 others with the same potential and we could equal the numbers arriving in Mexico from last years low (even if we have to take them part or all of the way! or follow them with tractor trailer loads of nectar rich flowers to sustain them through the food deserts they currently must traverse)
They have gotten here and the baton has been passed to us.

From Toronto, The Star newspaper July 12, 2014

"BJ Del Conte’s head is barely visible above the tall wildflowers in a sunny meadow on the Leslie Spit.

His neck is raw from scratching at mosquito bites, but he pushes through the prickly thistles, yellow rocket and purple loosestrife that have overtaken this field.

“There used to be a grove of milkweed here,” he says, disappointed. “Now it’s been grown over by all this.”

Still, he persists, stumbling on the occasional clump and bending down to carefully examine it.

The milkweed’s bursts of pinkish-mauve mini blooms are fragrance manna to mother monarch butterflies who seek out this rapidly disappearing wildflower upon which to lay their eggs.

“Without milkweed, there is no monarch,” says Del Conte, a TV producer who plants it in his downtown Toronto garden. In past years, he has attracted monarchs whose larvae he has captured, fed more milkweed and sheltered until they emerge from their chrysalis and are able to fly away.

After an hour or so of picking his way through the meadow, he finally eyes one lone butterfly and what he believes to be three eggs. But he’s not sure. He carefully peels off the leaf to take home, hoping those three tiny white bubbles will one day become big, beautiful black-and-orange butterflies.

“I’m not the biggest bug fan, but to me monarchs are transcendent — clear evidence that God does not play dice with the universe; they are at once art and science and pure poetry in motion,” he enthuses. “Few experiences compare to a very wet Monarch dripping orange fluid, tearing out of its jade-like chrysalis and making a beeline for your hand or body because you are a heat source that can help it dry more quickly.”

Del Conte is part of Monarch Watch, one of an ever-growing number of organizations whose members are alarmed by the butterfly’s declining numbers.

The immediate threat is to its miraculous migration, 5,000 kilometres from the northern latitudes of Canada’s provinces to its hibernation grounds in the remote old-growth forests of the Sierra Nevada of Mexico, hard hit by illegal clear-cutting, genetically modified crops en route, herbicides, weather extremes and, most important, the destruction of the essential milkweed, just about the only plant which its larvae eat.

Which is why, earlier this year, Ontario’s agriculture ministry removed the milkweed from its noxious plants list in the hope its resurgence can help bring back the monarch. That, plus awareness campaigns by the David Suzuki Foundation and other organizations via social media, has led to crops of milkweed popping up in gardens all over the GTA, tucked among the hydrangeas, lilies and other perennials as if it always belonged.

But milkweed has to make a comeback all the way up and down the monarch’s migratory paths because the butterfly breeds at least twice before it gets here from Mexico. It’s usually the third generation that is born and lives in our gardens, where it nectars and gathers strength to breed yet another generation. That fourth generation is the one that wings back to Mexico, a trip it has never made before, to a place it has never known.

That wondrous cycle is what has inspired retired nurse Bruce Parker to track, raise and tag monarchs in and around London, Ont., since 1998.

“I have tagged over 2500 monarchs and have had 17 recoveries in Mexico,” he says, adding that he is working on a research paper on the migration.

Although he has seen a few butterflies this year in a grove of some 1,500 milkweed plants, Parker has been discouraged by the number.

“This is the worst year on record,” he says. “But we won’t really know how bad it is until they count them in Mexico next February.”

In Lindsay, Ont., personal support worker Leslie Gist keeps planting milkweed in hope of seeing the monarch return to her garden in the numbers it used to.

“Last year was the first year that I didn’t see any caterpillars, I remember how concerned I was,” she recalls. This year I saw one monarch flitting around. It flew up into a maple tree and I haven’t seen it since. It’s not looking good for the monarch.”

Both Parker and Gist report their “first sightings” to Journey North, a website that maps milkweed, larva and the monarch’s progress as it migrates. This year it received 31,000 sightings from 59,000 registered sites, 10 per cent of which are in Canada.

Which sounds good. But probably isn’t.

Just after biologist Elizabeth Howard launched Journey North in 1994, the monarch population overwintering in Mexico hit an estimated high of 1.049 billion. Last year, that dropped to 33 million.

But Howard remains optimistic, despite the sobering numbers.

“We hope that the reason we are seeing so few now is maybe because it’s been a little cool and the monarchs are developing more slowly,” she says, on the phone from her home in central Vermont. “So people should keep an eye out, be ready to report what they see and understand that there’s time for one more generation. By Aug. 15th, they’ll be ready to migrate. So what happens next month is really key.”

As for Del Conte, he’s not so sure: “The monarch I saw at the Spit was my first in two years. I used to say monarchs were a ‘pressured’ species. Now, I think ‘crisis’ is too small a word.” "

Anne Arundel,, MD(Zone 7b)

I haven't followed this much, but props to you (again? have I said this?) for promoting something you love.

I saw some promising looking eaten up leaves on my A syriaca this week.

annapolis, MD(Zone 7b)

Thanks Sally. Your willingness to be a backup for fresh, healthy, unsprayed milkweed last year when I was raising 18 cats and finding little milkweed out there to feed them sure helped a lot. And, guess what? Two of the eggs and one of the cats so far this year have been on the tender young toddler plants you gifted me from your patch!

Have you ever considered hand raising some? It is not hard if you have a good source of milkweed! Only about 2% survive predation in the 'wild'. Can I come by and take a look see?

After hatching (3-5 days from laying). the tiny ones eat their shell, nibble some hairs on the underside of the leaf and then start in on the leaf itself making a cresent shaped hole as they munch. Then they poop the smallest black/green specks of frass. They may then go on a walk about to another leaf or up for a sip of nectar if the milkweed is in bloom. Unlike the BST c ats in Donners pica above, they look just like full grown adult cats from the git so. Very cute, too.
worthy of a few chilrens' book illustrations!

I just don't want the Monarchs and their migration to exist only in books for the kids like my two grandsons to read about rather than experience and discover anew every summer. Did you know that the Monarch is the state butterfly of Vermont??

Anne Arundel,, MD(Zone 7b)

I think it's the state butterfly of many states. I was looking through lists of state 'things' recently.

I am tooo busy/distracted right now for actively raising cats. Please be comforted that you persuaded me to let A. syriaca roam free in my perennial bed for another year.

My schedule lately is more like an UN schedule. Not horrible, just busy and variable.

Vienna, VA(Zone 7a)

I found 2 tiny Tussock Moth caterpillars on my Swamp Milkweed today. There are also lots of black aphid-size things on the stalks; does anyone know what that might be? I wiped most of them off, but I thought I should check before I get rid of all of them in case some kind of butterfly lays its eggs on MW stalks.

Lucketts, VA(Zone 7a)

Muddy, a photo would help. Could they be newly hatched MW Tussock Moth cats? Link to MW critters ,

Silver Spring, MD(Zone 7a)

Thanks, Greenthumb--very informative. I think I've been seeing the Milkweed Beetle, but didn't know what it was.

Lucketts, VA(Zone 7a)

Here is another nice link for those interested in what species may use their plants.

Silver Spring, MD(Zone 7a)

Thanks, Greenthumb! :-)

Vienna, VA(Zone 7a)

Thanks for the link, Greenthumb. I'll try to get a photo later today.
I'm thinking of asking my neighbors whether they're willing to let me put my Tussock Moth caterpillars on their plants, because they are native and prefer older MW plants anyway. I feel a little bad killing native caterpillars.

annapolis, MD(Zone 7b)

Greenthumb, How ready willing and able are you or your colleages in Loudoun County Wildlife
to share in hand raising a good portion of the Monarch eggs I am continuing to find? Or would you rather I contact Nicole myself?

As of this morning I have 80 eggs and more are being laid as I write this. I know that there are old hands there that have knowledge and supplies to do this and fresh untainted milkweed, too. Let me know and we can make arrangements for the transfer within the week.

These eggs are 60 % swamp milkweed, 30% common and 10 % tropical . We have capacity here
for 50 or so. I believe these are 3rd Generation who will lay eggs for the migrators beginning to mid-October. Some of the eggs are beginning to hatch so first instars can also be in the mix as temps there vary from here.

I believe you have my cell #, feel free to share it to get this done.

Thanks, or as your bumper stickers say "Take a Monarch to lunch: Plant Milkweed!"

annapolis, MD(Zone 7b)

Catmint and Muddy et al.

I'm working with several newbee Monarch cat hand raisers here and would love to work with you, too! As I said to Sally, it is fairly easy but you will need some containers and a supply of fresh untainted or diseased milkweed leaves to feed them with to get them to adulthood.

This is an indoor project. Let me know after reading up some if you (or others) would like to participate for the next 2 - 4 weeks or beyond.

Thanks, Judy

Silver Spring, MD(Zone 7a)

hi, Coleup. I'd love to. My tropical milkweed is big and healthy looking.

Baltimore, MD(Zone 7a)

Had a Monarch flying around all the blooming plant tables HD
as i was watering out there for a couple hours.
You can record this sighting at 9955 Pulaski Hwy. (RT. #40)

Early this morning--i looked out my BR window and there was a hummer
going nuts at my Brazilian plume flower--and also at the small blooms of
the potted Russian sage.

Just letting you know--in case it matters......Gita

Vienna, VA(Zone 7a)

I have 3 Swamp Milkweed plants and would love to help, but will be out of town for part of that time. I'll D-mail you my schedule.

Lucketts, VA(Zone 7a)

I have a large, currently vacant rearing cage, and I know of at least two LWC members who live nearby that are in search of Monarch cats to raise this year. Problem is in making connection to transfer larva/eggs. I will be in the Takoma Park/Silver Spring area later this week.

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