The caterpillars may starve to death.

When I was planting the new milkweed species that I’d bought, I saw Monarch caterpillars on the established Showy Milkweed plant!

They are still there, three days later. But there is much less of the plant left for them to eat. I notice that this morning two have moved over to the smaller stem. (I wish I could have seen them doing that.) This milkweed is a young start that I moved across the yard from under the fig tree, where the original plant had reproduced dozens more over the years.

I transplanted it last year, close to the Narrow-Leaf Milkweed, out in the open where the Monarchs might find it. The Showy leaves are large and meaty, and they are what I fed my caterpillars four years ago, even though the eggs had been laid on the Narrow-Leaf. Meanwhile, the fig tree has grown so large, in spite of being a dwarf variety, that it is shading the Showy Milkweed out of existence over there.

Monarch among the Narrow-Leaf Milkweed plants, 2018.
Monarch caterpillar on Showy Milkweed leaf, 2018.
2018

The Narrow-Leaf Milkweed is one of the two species native to my region, which is why I planted it originally. It has the most dramatic blooms, like ladies in crowns and pink dresses dancing in formation:

… but as I have said before, there is not enough leaf matter there to make the newborn caterpillars grow big and strong and become butterflies. It was my hope that if I put the Showy type out there, the Mama Monarch would choose it. And she did! But — it is hardly bigger than the new starts I set out. From the bottom of the picture at left:

1- Asclepias physocarpa – Family Jewels.
2- aphid-infested Narrow-Leaf Milkweed
3-  Asclepias linaria – Pineneedle Milkweed
4- Showy Milkweed (top L)
5- Asclepias glaucescens – Nodding Milkweed (top R)

I know from the past, when I raised and released three butterflies, that they eat a lot. Back then I picked numerous large leaves off the Showy plant — which was huge — to feed them.

These three have already eaten half of the plant, and they have a lot more growing to do:

When I return from my trip north, I’m afraid that they will have eaten every last leaf, and then starved to death. Should I take them with me, and feed them? But feed them what? I only have two spindly Showy plants growing under the fig tree currently. What if I were to lay them on the ground under the one being eaten right now, making a path to the new starts? Do I really want them to possibly defoliate those, too, when they have barely begun? After that truly thrilling Monarch Project I undertook I decided once was enough. Bearing responsibility for caterpillars was too much work. And physically exhausting for other reasons! So… I think I will have to let nature take its course.

It might be that the smallish Showy Milkweed just wants a tiny bit more water to help Nature along, and then that course might result in this kind of Show next summer:

2021

If so, there will be plenty of food for all caterpillar comers.

“For seasonable weather and the abundance of the fruits of the earth
and for peaceful times
let us pray to the Lord.”
-Litany of Peace

10 thoughts on “The caterpillars may starve to death.

  1. Wishing I could ship you leaves from my milkweed plants! We never did have any monarch caterpillars this year, and it would be nice to think that the plants fed something other than aphids. (I could send you some seeds, though Asclepius syriaca isn’t native to CA.)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is beautiful, Gretchen, and fascinating to me. I’ve never really seen the caterpillars in action and certainly not breaking forth. My monarchs have been in flight most often. These are a treasure and what a wonderful experience!

    Liked by 1 person

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