By Marypat Ehlmann Member-at-Large and Volunteer Coordinator, Wild Ones – St. Louis Chapter
Examining the monarch caterpillars
In early/mid-April the St. Louis region received our first wave of monarchs migrating north. This was unexpected and about 4-6 weeks before most milkweed in neighborhood yards was tall enough to support feeding a brood of very hungry caterpillars.
As usual the female monarch butterflies laid eggs on as many various native milkweed varieties as they could find (some small plants in ground and some fuller plants in garden centers).
On April 14, at A Growing Place Montessori School, my classroom gained two milkweed plants both with eggs aboard. Then as a plea was heard to help with the monarch baby boom, our classroom adopted 15 of the tiny striped larvae, now totaling 19 caterpillars, to feed, clean up after, and eagerly observe.
Just as described in How to Raise Monarch Butterflies: A Step-by-Step Guide for Kids by Carol Pasternak, for the next two weeks larva ate milkweed leaves, pooped (called frass), rested, outgrew one skin for a larger size, and then ate some more. Thanks to several friends and neighbors, milkweed leaves were harvested, served fresh, and quickly eaten by the brood. Did I mention in this hectic time, three more caterpillars hatched?
Blog by Susan Burk Member, Wild Ones – St. Louis Chapter
Susan and Fred Burk looking for monarch eggs Photo by Marcia Myers
[Editor’s Note: At the end of the gathering on Wednesday, April 12, 2017, Fred and Susan Burk were busy counting monarch eggs. They need our help as these early monarch eggs are now hungry caterpillars!]
It is unusual to have monarchs visit the St. Louis area in the spring. We normally see them as they are migrating south in late summer. This year, possibly because of storms in Texas and Oklahoma, they were “pushed” north and east. Problem with the early arrivals is that our milkweed has not started growing yet and there is not enough milkweed to feed the cat’s.
Female monarchs visited my yard on April 9, and because there were more than a hundred butterfly and marsh milkweed potted plants in my backyard, they had a great time laying eggs, which started hatching on April 16 and 17.
So far we have collected more than one hundred tiny caterpillars!
Timber Press: Portland OR, 2016
Reviewed by Carol Boshart Member, Wild Ones – St. Louis Chapter
Written by the Xerces Society which is dedicated to invertebrate protection, this book is designed for both novice and veteran home gardeners, as well as for larger-scale land managers and developers whose goal is to facilitate and enrich diversified ecosystems to attract and protect butterflies and moths as well other insects and interdependent wildlife populations. The authors express significant concern about the precipitous decline in the Lepidoptera order, and seek to “provide a blueprint for…change” in recruiting gardeners for help in reversing this alarming trend.
Included in the book is an overall view of butterfly characteristics by families, with outstanding detailed photographs depicting their strikingly-colorful wing patterns, body designs, and egg, caterpillar, and chrysalis formations. An added bonus in this book is that there is also a chapter devoted to notable moth families with accompanying informative photographs and commentary.
By Dawn Weber Board Member-at-Large
Wild Ones – St. Louis Chapter
City of St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay, Sustainability Director Catherine Werner, and young gardeners planting milkweed (Asclepias spp.) -Photo courtesy of the City of St. Louis
St. Louis sits at a pivotal migration point for monarchs, right in the middle of what is known as the Central Monarch Flyway. The importance of our location makes the success of the Milkweeds for Monarchs program significant, aiming toward the goal of increasing monarch butterfly habitat and helping people experience the splendor of monarchs where they live, work, learn, and play.
Not only does this amazing plant act as a nursery, provide nectar, and serve as an important food source, it provides extra protection from predators. Both monarchs (Danaus plexippus) and queen butterflies (Danaus gilippus) store cardenolides, toxins obtained from their milkweed (Asclepias spp.) diet.
Why aren’t the butterflies poisoned? Monarchs and queen butterflies developed enzymes that are “almost entirely immune to cardenolides’ toxic effects”. An article titled, “Butterflies Weaponize Milkweed Toxins” in The Scientist discusses the findings of recent research from Proceedings of The Royal Society B which indicate that the cardenolides-resistant enzymes arose not to specifically encourage the caterpillar to eat more milkweed but to make themselves poisonous to natural enemies. The milkweed provides the toxins.
Monarch butterflies are in serious decline, so raising and releasing them must be good, right? It would seem so, but some experts have concerns.
On October 8, “a group of 10 monarch researchers and conservationists from across the U.S. issued a statement highlighting concerns with the release of commercially raised and other mass-reared monarch butterflies and recommended against the practice.”