The Yellow Farmhouse Garden

August 15, 2019

Michigan monarch butterflies and milkweeds up north

We’ve been spending time in northeast Michigan on and off for the past month or so. In one particular location, I noticed more Monarch butterflies this year than in the past.

A couple of weeks ago there were at least a dozen Monarch adult females frantically flying around from plant to plant laying eggs on a colony of milkweed plants. That lasted for a couple of days and was still going on when we left for home.

We returned earlier this week expecting to find caterpillars all over the place. The plants were still there but there were no caterpillars to be found anywhere. The only difference was the plants had bloomed and the blossoms were quickly fading.

These are a different species of milkweed than we have at home. The purple flowers with their distinctive scent along with a purple mid-vein on the leaves, plus other traits, told us these were purple milkweed, Asclepias purpurascens. At our home in southeastern Michigan we have mostly common milkweed, Asclepias syriaca.

 There are several species of milkweed. This is purple milkweed.

There are several species of milkweed. This is purple milkweed.

I’m not sure why no caterpillars developed on the purple milkweed plants. It could be that predators ate the eggs before they hatched or ate the small caterpillars just as they emerged from their eggs.

On the other hand, this past weekend in the Caseville area, our daughter Robin and her cousins saw tons of caterpillars on milkweeds. Each and every plant, even the yellowing ones, had at least two caterpillars, others had even more. They didn’t know what species of milkweed those were since the plants hadn’t started blossoming yet. Adult females were quite busy laying eggs there too.

With that many caterpillars you expect to see evidence of predators and they did. While admiring a caterpillar up close, out of nowhere a predatory wasp zoomed in and dive bombed it. The caterpillar fell from the plant and was writhing wildly on the ground. When the spasming ceased, the hikers returned him to his roost on the milkweed. The hikers didn’t know it at the time, but the caterpillar was already doomed. The wasp had laid its eggs inside the caterpillar’s body making a nursery for a new generation of wasps.

We did eventually find a caterpillar on the purple milkweeds in the northeast location. We found it in a most unlikely spot. While we were hiking through a dense, shady cedar swamp with ferns, mushrooms, and jack-in-the-pulpits we came across a clearing where some trees were knocked over during a storm.

forest floor up north

In the middle of that sunny clearing was a single purple milkweed plant that had one lonely monarch caterpillar that was nearly full grown.

An airborne milkweed seed landed in the middle of the woods and took root. Later a female butterfly found it and laid an egg.

An airborne milkweed seed landed in the middle of the woods and took root. Later a female butterfly found it and laid an egg.

 Deep in this seemingly inhospitable environment, it was no place for a butterfly. It’s a wonder how the Mother Monarch found her way there at all.

 Bob

August 2, 2018

Join the International Monarch Monitoring Blitz

Filed under: Events,Insects — Tags: , , — bob @ 8:20 am

By now I’m sure you know we are in danger of losing the monarch butterfly migration in our lifetime. This critical situation was addressed in 2014 when President Obama met with President Pena Nieto of Mexico and Prime Minister Harper of Canada about it. At that meeting they agreed to “to establish a working group to ensure conservation of the monarch butterfly”. Since then much has been done to encourage research into the habits of monarch butterflies. One such result is the establishment of the annual International Monarch Monitoring Blitz.

This is an event that takes place all across the range of the monarch butterfly that spans large parts of  The United States, Mexico and Canada. The purpose is to try to get a count of the number of monarch butterflies during a small window of time. This year the count started July 28th and runs through August 5th.

Scientists are looking for help during the Blitz, they’re asking for “citizen scientists” to step forward and pitch in for the butterfly count.  It’s simple and fun to participate as a citizen scientist, anyone can do it. All you need to do is count the number of monarchs you see in all stages of the insect’s development; egg, larva, chrysalis and adult and make some observations about milkweed plants. Once you’re done, report your findings online at the Monarch Larva Monitoring Project website.

There's another one! Add him to the tally.

There’s another one! Add him to the tally.

This is only the second year of this international event, so now’s your chance to get started as an amateur researcher. Years from now as the Blitz expands and becomes more well known, you’ll be able to proudly tell your friends you were among the earliest participants.

We’re working on our part of the Blitz right now  and hope you find the time to join in too. It’s a great way to spend some time outdoors while knowing you’re doing something tangible to help save our beloved monarch butteries.

Bob and Judy

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