Survival of the fittest… ?

Since the beginning of the week I have been watching the monarch caterpillars, outside my bedroom window, slugging it out over the few remaining swan plant leaves. They have been pushing and shoving and head butting in their fight to secure their place at the food table.

Everyone temporarily in harmony.

Everyone temporarily minding their manners.

I tried to help by providing some delicate cucumber slices, as suggested byย those in the know .

Tasty?

Tasty? Cucumber minus the sandwich.

Some of the larger caterpillars tested the new menu but were not enthusiastic. They preferred to continue in their old familiar ways and went back to munching every last shred of the swan plants; some of which must have been seasoned by the eggs of what was supposed to be the next generation.

Inevitably, as the food supply has dwindled, so, too, have the caterpillar numbers. One by one the caterpillars have disappeared. Some may have gone to pupate in the dense foliage of the adjacent oregano; others have simply gone.ย  Where, I don’t know.ย  Have they moved to new feeding grounds, strengthened only by their will to survive? Or have they gone off to die? The ground is not littered with caterpillar corpses. If they have disappeared to meet their death elsewhere, it is in a manner reminiscent of that noble adventurer Captain Oates; a story beautifully retold by Valerie Davies in her latest post Very gallant gentlemen.

If they have died, I am glad I have been spared the sight of their demise. Watching the caterpillars squabbling over food was hard enough, not to mention the feeling of helplessness over being unable to supply them with more swan plants. ( New plants on order but not available till tomorrow ๐Ÿ˜ฆ )

Last year the first of my monarch butterflies emerged on March 1st, the official first day of autumn. (What a lot of firsts ๐Ÿ™‚ ) Maybe, come March, this year, I will be surprised and delighted all over again by the birth ofย  new Royal Beauties but, so far, I have not seen a single chrysalis.

To be continued……

ยฉ silkannthreades

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81 thoughts on “Survival of the fittest… ?

  1. Russel Ray Photos

    Sometimes the caterpillars become their own part of the food chain. I understand from the people here that the ravens and crows love them, which is why the bushes here were planted so close to the entrance of the Botanical Building.

    Reply
        1. Russel Ray Photos

          That wasp nest is huge! I’m still laughing at the lady who watched a nest grow so large that it eventually toppled and rolled onto her driveway, where she proceeded to run over it with the car………

  2. Mike Howe

    Nurturing monarch caterpillars, what a wonderful thing to do, I’m so impressed. Have they always been in your garden or are they are relatively new addition? It’s great that you provide them their food, and such a varied diet ๐Ÿ™‚

    Reply
    1. Gallivanta Post author

      I have often seen the butterflies but it was only last season that I decided to plant swan plants for the caterpillars. So this is my second season with the monarchs. There’s not a lot to do except provide food, and worry that there isn’t enough; sort of like feeding the kids, plus friends, again!

      Reply
        1. Gallivanta Post author

          Indeed! You would think I would have learned how to carry it more easily by now, or at least have learned a thing or two from the monarch about how to be a relaxed parent ๐Ÿ˜‰ .

  3. Marylin Warner

    Gallivanta, this is fascinating. I grew up doing all kinds of Kansas gardening–outdoor and inside–but I never had any experience like this! It’s amazing what you do, how and when you do it…and the entire process. I feel like I’m taking a class in a totally new subject. Thank you!!!

    Reply
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  5. valeriedavies

    Love this post – I too nurture my monarchs and agonise over where the caterpillars have gone! Milkweed is the same plant as swan plant isn’t it? I don’t know how to let your other commenter know this…
    And thank you so much for your generous words Gallivanta – very much appreciated…

    Reply
    1. Gallivanta Post author

      Thank you Valerie ๐Ÿ™‚ I have just posted again about the monarch caterpillars and this time I have included a link to a Wiki article on the swan plant. It is a species of milkweed. But, my goodness, I hadn’t realised how many types of milkweed there are, world-wide. A friend has just visited and taken two of my caterpillars to another swan plant across town. That means the ones I have left should manage to survive on the available food. Fingers crossed. Your monarch season will be well-advanced, I suppose?

      Reply
  6. shoreacres

    I didn’t realize that you would have Monarchs, too. And I haven’t a clue what a swan plant is – I’ll check on that later. Our Monarchs feed on milkweed, and their demise here is directly linked to increasing development and use of herbicides which also kill the milkweed. Now, there are great (in the sense of both “large” and “highly approved”) campaigns to get people to understand the relationship, and to plant more milkweed. I think that it’s just our common milkweed they prefer, but I’m not certain about that.

    In all my life I’ve never seen one of the caterpillars or a crysalis. We see them as adults, migrating through. Their flight path can change a bit from year to year, but once upon a time I got to see a magnificent flight of them. It went on for three days. Just breathtaking.

    Reply
    1. Gallivanta Post author

      How wonderful you saw a flight of monarchs that lasted 3 days. I am excited when I see one or two fluttering and gliding around on the breeze….a whole sky-ful of them would be an awesome sight. In my latest post I have a link to some information on the swan plant. It is a species of milkweed and not native to NZ. I believe you have native milkweeds in the US..

      Reply
  7. Sheryl @ Flowery Prose

    Really pleased to hear that there seem to be a fair amount of monarchs there – we’re not seeing good numbers of them in North America, unfortunately. Looking forward to seeing if you will have any butterflies emerging soon!

    Reply
  8. ordinarygood

    Your lovely post brings a “note to self” reminder for me to grow a heap of swan plants for next year. We had them when we first lived here and the children loved watching the life cycle.

    I’ve seen lots of Monarchs this weird summer which is very heartening.

    20 minutes away is this amazing lady: https://www.facebook.com/Ursula.Monarchs
    She is caring for Monarchs BIG Time! Meanwhile the tulip magnolia has a fledgling Tui in it still every day with occasional feedings by the parents. I wish the fledglings had name tags so I could tell who was who….do they rotate in and out of the tree, is this a reluctant nest-leaver, who knows but I am watching…. doesn’t nature offer us all so many wonderful opportunities to observe and wonder????

    Reply
    1. Gallivanta Post author

      Ursula is doing wonders with her monarchs. I see she recommends planting the swan plants well ahead of the monarch season. Seems sensible. The ones I have this year were self-sown so I didn’t have much control over the timing of their growth. Glad to have an update on the Tui! I came across the term citizen scientist the other day; I think that would apply to you ๐Ÿ™‚

      Reply
  9. Sheryl

    The pictures are awesome. It’s unusual to be Monarch caterpillars or butterflies around here. It’s amazing how they apparently are relatively common in the area where you live.

    Reply
    1. Gallivanta Post author

      I don’t know that my menu offerings were much use. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ However, I am pleased to report that I was able to get another swan plant today, so that’s a little more food for the caterpillars that remain.

      Reply
    1. Gallivanta Post author

      Mmmm….they are supposed to be able to eat cucumber, pumpkin and courgettes….but my caterpillars weren’t convinced! Wonderful link but how sad to read this Overwintering monarchs along the California coastline have shown considerable declines since the count began.” In 1997, the first year of the count, there were over 1.2 million monarchs at 101 sites. In 2013, just 211,275 were counted at 162 sites (see graph below).” Lovely to see this too as concerns grow world wide for the welfare of the bumble bee http://www.bumblebeewatch.org/

      Reply
  10. Mrs. P

    Oh no…the beauties are in danger this year? I do hope they have found another place to forage. Though if they have, they will probably build their chrysalis’ in their new location. Hopefully they will do a flyby at least. Do let me know if restocking the pantry has any successful result!

    Reply
  11. gpcox

    We see very few of them around here, not like we used to. A neighbor has a plant that attracts butterflies and when their young emerge we have tons of yellow beauties flying around.

    Reply
  12. violetski

    Amazing! Love those photos, dear Gallivantaโค๏ธ
    I’m sure they will turn to beautiful butterflies and looking forward to see their photos too๐Ÿ˜ƒ

    Reply
  13. lensandpensbysally

    I’ve written a few posts about the crisis of the monarchs, which is mainly due to human intervention with habitat loss. In the USA where swaths of butterfly milkweed grew wild across the country, come uninformed have reduced it and thereby tossing the host plant for this majestic butterfly. I try to advocate for them, encouraging planting of the butterfly milkweed and swamp milkweed–both are native to Delaware and the Mid-Atlantic. I’ve not heard about the Swan Plant. I must say that to see your sweet monarch caterpillars gave my morning some cheers.

    Reply
    1. Gallivanta Post author

      Sally, I recently read a very disturbing news article about the loss of habitat for the monarchs in the US. Very, very concerning. Far worse than I realised. Last year I planted two swan plants and then I let them go to seed. So, this year I have about 8 self-sown swan plants and they have been swamped with eggs and caterpillars. I don’t know if monarch butterflies do this but it seems as though all the ones ‘I hatched’ last year came back to lay their eggs. Watching the butterflies arrive to lay eggs has been magical.

      Reply
  14. lagottocattleya

    I think you will soon see them fluttering this year too – and you tried to help as far as you could. They are truly wonders, Monarchs. It would have been wonderful to see this in real life – but I looked back on your last year post and remembered. The video sent from Clanmother was excellent too. Looking forward to hearing more!

    Reply
  15. Mรฉlanie

    I love cucumbers and butterflies… ๐Ÿ™‚ your pix are sooo amazing and bright… speakin’ of “bizarre” creatures, there are lots of slugs here this winter as it’s rained “cats and dogs”(not men!)… ๐Ÿ™‚

    Reply
  16. utesmile

    Great pictures, I am sure you have the beautiufl butterflies flying around you in no time. Is it alread soon Autumn for you…. that means Spring for us… I am looking forward to that. Might be more sun….

    Reply
    1. Gallivanta Post author

      I love seeing the butterflies fluttering about. Can’t have enough of them, as far as I am concerned, so I am keeping my fingers crossed. March 1st is officially the first day of autumn :).

      Reply
  17. georgiapdesigns

    Lovely to see your pictures, something we rarely see here in the UK. Fingers crossed they have just found some tastier feeding post until your swan plants develop again, what do swan plants look like by the way? Linda x

    Reply
      1. georgiapdesigns

        Thanks for link to the picture. What strange looking plants, not quite sure I can see the swan like shape, so I googled them as well, even stranger but obviously very appetising to caterpillars. Linda x

        Reply
        1. Gallivanta Post author

          They wouldn’t be the most attractive plant in my garden, although their flowers are pretty. What truly astounds me is the monarch butterflies ability to locate even the tiniest specimen in the jungle of my garden.

  18. Clanmother

    You always get me scurrying off to on research projects!!! Nature is indeed mysterious. Well, I have never really studied (I must have skipped that science class) the stages of the monarch butterfly. So I found this short video, complete with music. Science classes have progressed since I was in grade school.

    Reply
    1. Gallivanta Post author

      An excellent video. I can confirm the eggs are about the size of a small sesame seed but I haven’t been quick enough to see the tiny caterpillar feast on its own egg covering. I do watch them being eating machines though! It is a fascinating process. And happens quickly too.

      Reply
    1. Gallivanta Post author

      I am hoping everything will turn out okay. The swan plants are very resilient and seem to produce new growth overnight. Last year, despite similar concerns, I managed to provide enough support to bring 20 Monarch butterflies in to the world.

      Reply
  19. cindy knoke

    Whoa!!! Amazing! They are endangered here. I remember your post about this last March…..Gosh, was that already a year ago? Look how many you have now. Remarkable!
    I just got back to The Holler and there were painted ladies here……it is winter here. But the drought is horrible so it is like and endless summer.
    Your posts are such a joy, because of course, you are.

    Reply
    1. Gallivanta Post author

      It is very dry here too, Cindy, but nothing like your drought. I can’t believe it is a year since the last monarch season at my place, either. Looking back at my posts, it’s amazing to see how closely the events of this season are following the timetable of last year’s monarch season. Their internal clocks are remarkable.

      Reply

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