Monarchs and Milkweeds

In the summer of 2015 I transplanted some local varieties of milkweed to a small patch in my garden next to the rain barrel. They were shocked by being dug up. I watered and they survived. In the summer of 2016 they all came up looking healthy. I was hopeful for visits by Monarch butterflies. I never saw evidence of any. If you aren’t familiar with milkweed, this link will help. When damaged, they bleed a white sap.

This year in 2017 the plants are nearly 6 ft tall and strong. I put a 4 ft tall piece of fencing around them so they wouldn’t blow over. This picture shows them in the center in full bloom. The second picture shows their flowered tops.

Milkweeds and Monarch butterflies have a special relationship. The butterflies over-winter in Mexico. In spring, they head north then northeast into the US following the maturation of the milkweed plants. They reach barely north of the Canadian border. This for maps and details. And this 5 minute video includes parts of a NOVA program about their journey.

The butterflies face many challenges including the loss of milkweed habitat in spring and summer breeding ranges. Female monarchs only lay their eggs on milkweed plants, and the hatched caterpillars feed exclusively on milkweed. Widespread herbicide use killed large populations of milkweed and removed food sources for the Monarchs. Their number have dropped a great deal.

Efforts are underway in many states and by volunteers to increase the amount of milkweed and hence help the Monarchs as they make their long journey to Canada and back. The Iowa program and cooperating organizations is described in this post.

I examined the leaves carefully on my milkweeds for Monarch eggs or larvae. Guess what I found. It was a young larvae barely 0.5 in long. I was thrilled.

The next day I looked again for more larvae and found two big ones about 1.5 in long. Both were feeding voraciously on the leaves. They will form a chrysalis and emerge as a butterfly. My milkweed project is doing well.

While looking for the larvae, I also found squeaking milkweed beetles. With an app on my phone that records audio, I held the beetle up close to the microphone grasping it by the sides in my thumb and index finger. After a few seconds it wriggled loose. I got a different grip and again held it close to the microphone. You can hear both squeaking noises in this 22 sec video at the start and near the end. Pictured in the video is the squeaking milkweed beetle alone and a pair of them mating. I remember being shown this beetle when I was a kid. They are one of my favorite insects.


11 thoughts on “Monarchs and Milkweeds

  1. underswansea

    Very fine post Jim. I learn something new every time I stop by. Really enjoyed the squeaking Milkweed Beatles and the photos of the Monarch Worm. Very lucky to be able to find these creatures. I look forward to following their progress on your blog. Take care.

  2. shoreacres

    You did very well. If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a hundred times at our native plant society meetings: milkweed are almost impossible to transplant. Whether that applies primarily to the species we have here, I don’t know, but you certainly were successful.

    I’d never heard — or heard of — that beetle. The world is filled with strange and wondrous things, for sure.

    1. Jim R Post author

      I dug early in the season and deep to leave the tap root as undisturbed as possible. The spadefuls were really heavy.


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