Last week was really something Monarch-wise. Check this out:
I was out collecting seed from our rapidly fading swamp milkweed and suddenly, everywhere I looked there were Monarch caterpillars. Over the next 4 days, Shannon and I found 19. And this on only 4 mature and 1 not-so-mature plants. Almost all of them were 5th instars, but there was one 2, a 3, and a 4. I couldn't believe I hadn't noticed them before, but I think I was too preoccupied with the pests that have inundated the plants. I got in touch with Dr. Karen Oberhauser at the University of Minnesota, and she said it's unusual to find so many this late in the season. She asked me to keep track of any parasitoids, so that's what the chart in the photo is for. I have 14 chrysalides now, and 4 of them are parasitized. There's one other that I'm kind of concerned about, but I can't be sure yet. So - I have to raise whatever parasitoids come out of the chrysalides to maturity, then send them in to the Monarch Larva Monitoring Project. From their site: Our mission is to better understand the distribution and abundance of breeding monarchs and to use that knowledge to inform and inspire monarch conservation. It strikes me as very odd that so many years after I attended the U of M, and after having lived in so many places and done so many things since, I'm now raising flies and wasps for my alma mater. Never would have imagined... I'm going to tag all the Monarchs that emerge. Chip Taylor, at the University of Kansas and Monarch Watch, said that about 2 1/2 hours from us, the last date of migration for them to have a reasonable chance of making it to Mexico is 1 October, though it might be a little later this year. So, if I can get mine in the air by mid September, I'm hoping they'll make it to Mexico. If it gets too late for the younger ones, Shannon and I have discussed driving them far enough south to catch up with the migration. I'm going to have to make some further inquiries to determine whether or not that would be completely over-the-top OCD behavior. I just consider each one of these butterflies too precious not to do my best for them.
That same swamp milkweed in front of my studio has been overrun with milkweed bugs and oleander aphids. The bugs are annoying, but not too terribly damaging. The aphids on the other hand... They're creepy little buggers. I sprayed them all off the plants with the garden hose on jet after I'd done what I thought was a very thorough search for any more caterpillars. (Shannon did find the 19th one after I'd done that.) Things are a lot better out there, but the pests are definitely moving back in. Ugh. I'm so disappointed with the pollinator population on our property this summer. Our prairies are progressing nicely, though. I'm seeing way more aster than I thought we had, so that's a good thing. It's one of the latest blooming prairie flowers, so it's important for pollinators. Now if there just were some bugs out there... And, alas, a sad note. You may have heard about the recent flooding around Decorah. Well, the community prairie was under water. Shannon and I went there a few days after the water receded and it was so quiet. I imagine all the pollen got washed away, so our little friends had to move on. (Sure wish they would have come our way!) And given how many Monarch cats we found, I shudder to think how many were taken out by the water. Makes mine all the more precious. Please keep your fingers crossed for my unexpected 2nd round of Monarch babies!