Well, after what was shaping up to be a disastrous year for monarch reproduction here in the garden, I got a successful round in late summer/early autumn. I wasn’t seeing any more wasps by then, although one chrysalis appeared to have been taken by one anyway. But that's nothing compared to the awful toll the wasps took in the spring: two entire batches of caterpillars! Some of the cats that made it to the chrysalis stage succumbed to the Dread Disease, either before or during emergence, but that seems to be normal these days. I’m still trying to get my notes together for a detailed account, but if I recall correctly, at least ten butterflies made it to maturity and flew away.
What’s more, yet another group – starting with eggs in early October – has now made it to the pupal stage. I really wasn’t expecting any more this year! Although it’s not the first time they’ve bred this late, I hadn’t anticipated another try. Maybe there’s some way for the butterflies to know that they’ve had so little success that they might as well have another go at it. Apparently the monarchs have had better luck elsewhere this year. (How far away that could reasonably be, I don’t know. Eventually I’ll look into it, I’m sure.)
So, there are now eighteen chrysalises (wow!) hanging around the yard in various places. After my initial count – the usual few days of walking and crawling around the yard with my eyes peeled, plus some careful trimming of the ever-popular geraniums -- one of them vanished, leaving only a bit of the stipe (the stem from which the chrysalis hangs) behind. Some predator – a lone wasp, perhaps – must have snipped it off and carried it away.
Just a day later, however, I made one more muddy crawl to comb carefully through the long grass stems against the wood fence. There turned out to be one more chrysalis under the fence’s lowest rail, which is about 9” (23cm) off the ground. I know I’d checked that area, but not with my eyes 9” from the ground. I could sure use a shrink ray sometimes. (Then again, maybe not the best idea…)
Just before the fully-grown cats took off on their final trek, though, I counted twenty. One of them may have died. Or, maybe there’s a chrysalis still out there waiting to emerge and surprise me. That's always fun.
So, eighteen that I know of. They’re all still green, which is good, since the weather’s been mostly cold and rainy for several days. It’s warming up again. A week or so of nice warm days, and they could all turn dark, emerge as beautiful adult monarchs, and fly away to the milder coast, Mexico, or wherever they want to spend the rest of their butterfly lives.
Unless they decide to stay around and try for three? Yesterday I discovered three eggs on the milkweed. Oh, for god’s sake…