Archive for September 8th, 2020

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Hurricane Laura threatened our area two weeks ago. We were lucky that we didn’t get a direct hit, but I was worried about the eggs on my milkweed plants. I had observed a female flitting around and laying eggs, so I knew there were a few.

Photo by Lory Landry

Lesson #1: Where there is one, there are many: The monarch egg is tiny and difficult to see, so when you see one, there may be more. I cut all my milkweed and put it into small bud vases inside a butterfly enclosure. Before I knew it, one became many. After I counted 30, I stopped counting. Every day there were more.

Lesson #2: They don’t all make it. When we were raising wood ducks, a wise Cajun fiddle player, 20 year old Adelaide, told us, “Don’t get attached. They don’t all hatch.” The same is true of monarch caterpillars. I stopped counting how many I’ve lost. They’ve died at different stages, some as tiny newbies, and others within the chrysalis. I have learned to accept loss as part of the process. Only 2% make it through the whole life cycle. That’s a tough statistic.

Clip from a video shows two caterpillars just days apart each other in growth.

Lesson #3: Farmers rise early. School has started and to be able to get to the chores of cleaning and feeding my “cats”, I have to get up early. The Very Hungry Caterpillar is no exaggeration. They eat and poop a lot! They’ve gone through all my garden milkweed, the trimmings from a friend’s yard, 4 plants I picked up at a nursery, 4 plants that my friend bought, a bag of frozen butternut squash, and half of a fresh butternut squash. I still have some feeding. I am not kidding!

Lesson #4: Hang out with the experts. I have joined a Facebook group called The Beautiful Monarch. You can post images there for celebration, but there are also experienced farmers to offer advice and commiseration. The raising of monarchs is “a whole world.”

Clip from a video of a caterpillar in J-formation getting ready to pupate.

Lesson #5: Give the gift of resurrection: I have had to find and buy more butterfly enclosures. But in so doing, I can spread the joy to others. Judy didn’t understand why her milkweed was bare. At closer inspection, we discovered 4 hungry caterpillars. They came home with me in a small terrarium that she had handy. Once the chrysalises were formed, I gave it back to her to enjoy the emerging stage. I also gave an enclosure with 3 chrysalises to a colleague in need of encouragement.

I have mixed feelings about this whole experience. It’s been a hard job to do well. I feel like I don’t know what I’m doing most of the time. But isn’t that the way we feel about any new experience, inept yet open to learning? Kind of like educating children in a pandemic.

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