Sunday 3 August 2014

How to spot a Monarch butterfly caterpillar!

Milkweed Tussock Moth caterpillars
If you recall, I've been following the Milkweed
Teeny Tussock caterpillar
plant that was covered in Milkweed Tussock Moth caterpillars. I don't think I've ever grossed out my Hydrogeologist daughter, who has been stung by wasps out in the field, and spends a certain amount of time outdoors wearing a hard hat, but I did! The crawling, seething mass of caterpillars were too much for her!

 They have moved from leaf to leaf, totally rendering the leaves into skeletons, dropping their little caterpillar poo on the leaf below. They don't seem to hurt the plant, since the plants have already bloomed and are producing seeds later this month. Plus, there are thousands of caterpillars on just the one plant, and I have hundreds of other Milkweed plants on the property. In a way, they are efficient.

The Latest critters in Milkweed plants

Another mystery egg!
Wicked Goldenrod Crab spider!
They attack wasps & bees!
In my search, I keep finding new critters who depend upon, or enjoy the Milkweed plant. The Monarch caterpillar eggs are white, as are the Tussock eggs.
Matchy-matchy, see the moth?

Red Milkweed beetle
starts eating on the edge

Tree frog,
with Red milkweed beetle damage on the leaf.

 I was checking on the progress of my Tussock caterpillars, intrigued with their life cycle, and couldn't find them. They are obvious, since they are so abundant in one spot.

How to hunt for caterpillars

Hundreds of Milkweed Tussock caterpillars

My strategy is to first look for a Milkweed plant with damage, then gently lean the plant over, while trying to avoid getting bitten by Deerflies.

When I hunt for Monarch caterpillars, I've found that there is usually a hole in the middle of the leaf, where the caterpillar hatched from the egg, then it moves about on the leaves. The Red Milkweed beetle starts at the edges of the leaves and eats out chunks.

As I realized the Tussocks were all gone, I noticed another Monarch caterpillar! At that point, I began to wonder how many eggs they actually lay.
Monarch butterfly
The ones that migrate to visit us in the north,
are different than those who stay further south.
Ours have longer life cycles.

The answer is, they don't really know. All they can do is speculate from those who have laid eggs in captivity.

Monarch butterfly notes by Dr. Karen Oberhauser
Q. How many eggs do the monarch butterflies lay in one time?
A. They only lay one egg at a time, and usually one per plant, but they can lay many in a single day. (The most I've seen is 205 in one day, but this is very unusual.)

Q. What is the most eggs a monarch has ever laid?
 I have no way of knowing how many eggs wild females lay. However, I have studied fecundity (number of eggs laid) by captive females, and they highest number I've seen was 1179 during their lifecycle. The average is about 700, but this varies from year to year. They lay fewer in hot, dry summers.
Monarch butterfly

Monarch Lifecycle
The Monarch butterflies go through prolonged stages of metamorphoses , starting with its larva or caterpillar, shedding or molting its skin an amazing five times before the pupa stage.  You can see a diagram of the monarch life cycle that you can color in hereOur articles are free for you to copy and distribute.


eileeninmd said...

Great post and info on raising the Monarch caterpillar ! Happy Sunday!

Red said...

I know how hard you'r cheering for Monarch butterflies. I hope you find many more and that you miss many!

William Kendall said...

I've finally been seeing monarchs around in the last few days here.

Vagabonde said...

You are knowledgeable about insects! This year there are many little black caterpillar types – they are everywhere. If you touch them they curl up into a tiny circle, and if somehow you step on one they sound crunchy. I have no idea what they are and what they eat. Do they sound familiar to you?

Yamini MacLean said...

Hari Om
Loved all the vids and these shots Jenn - admittedly the moth grubs are a tad towards the maggoty end of the beauty scale...but still fascinating! YAM xx

Jenn Jilks said...

I really don't know, Vagabonde! There are so many to research! I cannot tell you how many I've looked up and promptly forgotten, too!
That's good, William! I am certain the Monarchs will recover their migration numbers. The base population is good in Mexico. They lay hundreds of eggs in good conditions, and it i a very good year!