It started out innocent enough… I was trying to convince my partner that the tall, thin-leafed plants cropping up all over our front garden were milkweeds, not just weeds (he wasn’t buying it) when lo and behold! A monarch butterfly comes fluttering down to one of the milkweeds and proceeds butt-kiss the leaves. Pooping? Laying eggs? I don’t know, but I get really excited because I’d never seen a butterfly do this before. Aforementioned partner almost strains an ocular muscle rolling his eyes.
I check later and indeed, there is a tiny, oblong …thing… on a leaf. I do all the researches. I post the picture to groups in the know about monarch butterfly reproductive habits. I get confirmation that YES IT IS AN EGG, and probably a monarch butterfly’s egg. I learn all about the joys and pitfalls of raising monarch butterflies from eggs. I show the egg to anyone who will listen, and check on it at least 5 times a day. After two days, I’m ready. I’m ready to PICK THE LEAF.
I oh so so carefully pluck the leaf from the stalk, bring it inside, and safely ensconce it in its hatchery (aka one of the eleventy billion to-go containers we’ve collected) and go out looking for more eggs. I find TWO caterpillars and a few more eggs. Oh man oh man, I’m going to need a more comprehensive set up. I have a brood to take care of, people!
I get a butterfly “habitat” and set up a kind of mock-milkweed-jungle for the caterpillars. I check on them at least twice a day because I’m afraid of losing track of them – we have two small children and two kittens in the house and while inexperienced hunters, they are relentless in their search for prey…
A couple days pass and I learn two things about caterpillars and a third thing about eggs:
1. Caterpillars get much bigger very quickly. This sucker easily doubled in size from when I brought him inside.
2. You know what also doubles in size? Their poop. Both in amount and individual volume.
3. Eggs can’t be too moist or they MOLD. *crying face* I lost 3 eggs to suspected mildew or some kind of infection. Extra fun fact? Healthy eggs about to hatch look like blackhead zits! Weeeeeee.
And then. AND THEN.
ONE OF THE EGGS HATCHED.
Newborn caterpillars are so very tiny. Tinier than I was expecting (not sure why, the egg is miniscule, but don’t question the logic of a woman who hasn’t had a full night’s sleep in over a year). Also, these little buggers are fast. The next morning, five, FIVE, more hatched and two were trying to make a break for it out of the leftover cont- er, hatchery.
Now to keep them all alive. And to get them to chrysalis stage. May the butterfly gods smile upon me and my four year old regularly forget the caterpillars exist, so these small creatures have a fighting chance!
To continue the saga, read on: Raising Monarchs II