Plant Them and They Will Come
Common milkweed is just that, a common ‘weed’ as well as the principal food of Monarch butterflies. How do you know if it is milkweed? Gently tear the tip of a leaf and you will see a milky substance, but remember not to touch it, as the sticky substance has toxins that will make you sick. There are other types of milkweed growing in this area including swamp milkweed and butterfly weed. The Monarch pictured to the left passed through the Mews this June and stopped to enjoy a milkweed flower.
Monarch butterflies lay eggs under the milkweed leaves. Nothing more than a tiny white dot, it seems impossible that it can turn into a butterfly. Once the caterpillars hatch they eat the milkweed leaves. The poison toxin in the leaves is not a problem for the caterpillars. As a result, the adult butterflies themselves are toxic. Predators quickly learn to leave the adult Monarchs alone. Although toxic to vertebrate predators, wasps and ants will prey on the caterpillars, as the toxins do not affect them.Yes, the odds are really stacked against the Monarch. When the caterpillar reaches maturity, it leaves the milkweed and looks for a place to transform. After carefully attaching itself to a leaf, branch, or fence with silk, the caterpillar forms the characteristic “J” shape.
Now the magic starts. I have tried to watch this process many times, but I always sense the caterpillar knows I’m there. It can also take a long time. Slowly the inside of the animal begins to deteriorate and shake. I notice the changes most in the antenna that simply seem to dissolve. When you are not watching (because that’s usually what happens), the caterpillar’s ‘skin’ (the external skeleton) peels off and what is left is a green chrysalis.
Why is it this butterfly called the Monarch? Look closely at the top of the chrysalis. Do you see the gold dots? That is the crown.
Swamp milkweed was planted in the Conservation Garden near the swimming pool this year. Shortly afterwards a female Monarch laid her eggs. Within two weeks, there were plenty of caterpillars chewing away at the leaves. Below there are links to video.
Other Landscape Committee News
The annual tree inspection will take place on September 29. Several of you have let the Landscape Committee know of problems you’ve seen in your court. Please let us know if there other concerns.
The Landscape Committee: Fern Birtwistle, Jamie Boone, Sue Davis, and Penny Glass