The Monarchs are not only late, they are simply not here, apparently not there, and everyone who cares about them says they don’t seem to be anywhere. My patch of milkweed has gone through its bloom, fade, and is forming seed pods, all without the contented chewing of monarch caterpillars pruning its leaves.
And then we finally found one! We hadn’t seen any butterflies, but it had been awhile since I had last checked for eggs, so we pored through the plants in our front lawn, and found one caterpillar in its third instar of five. We cut the branch and brought it into our screen porch, which is where we keep them from predators. Normally, we have aquariums set up and ready, but this guy caught us off guard, so we poked the stems through the cover of a plastic container and set it on the table.
Today, I was reading on the porch and glanced down to see him crawling around on the milkweed plant, no longer concentrating on eating the leaves. He looked big and juicy; in his fifth instar. We call it “walkabout time”, because they they seem to wander aimlessly around the tank before making their laborious journey to the top, to go into “J” from the screen cover.
I went into a little panic when I realized that I had no idea where the aquariums are (probably out in the garage on a shelf I can’t reach). Monarch caterpillars can go far and wide in their search for the perfect “J” spot. One year, we had a herd get loose on the screen porch and we had chrysalides on the door frames, the patio chairs, tables, the shades, a couple of them got urgent enough to make their “J”s on the glass of the patio door. I knew I had to find a container before our one 2016 caterpillar was lost.
I tried a Tupperware cereal container, but the plastic dish wouldn’t fit, so I wracked my brain until my trusty stockpot, with its handy spaghetti insert caught my eye. Everything just fits, and the last time I checked, the little wanderer had settled back on a leaf (I probably distracted him from his mission with all the moving and shaking of his plant).
I hope this is the first of at least a few that we can send on to migrate back to Mexico. It is disturbing and disheartening that we have seen so few Monarchs this summer, and that others report seeing none at all. I hope that it is a temporary setback, but it is hard to think positively in the face of such a drastic change.