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Life with the monarch caterpillars

Happy monarch caterpillar munching on the base of a milkweed leaf

Today three more monarch caterpillars developed in chrysalides.

Now we have seven chrysalides and eight caterpillars in various sizes.

We were completely taken by surprise by the amount of little monarch caterpillars that we discovered on both narrow leaf milkweed plants we have in containers in the backyard.

As you may recall from an earlier post, we originally found just one caterpillar on one of the narrow leaf milkweed plants early last month. She grew very quickly and was in chrysalis mode for just ten days until she emerged and we released her on the patio.

Then late last month I discovered more monarch caterpillars on the same plant, all of them very little.

First there were seven, then I kept discovering more, until there were twelve from the same plant.

After that I found four more caterpillars on the other narrow leaf milkweed plant.

In the meantime we had to be creative housing all of these creatures to monitor and feed.

First we covered with inexpensive bridal veil mesh the milkweed plant with eleven caterpillars

and kept the plant outside, protected from any predator wasps and aphids.

But as the nights got cooler we brought the whole plant in and kept it on our dresser in our bedroom, in front of a large window.

As you can see this is a great way to keep the caterpillars safe, and from wandering out. The bridal veil is kept firmly on the container with several bungee cords hooked together. We kept an opening in the mesh on the side for easy access to water the milkweed plant, clamped shut.

The mesh is ideal for good ventilation with fine holes that no tiny caterpillars can get through.

HOWEVER, I now learned a lesson regarding aphids.

I thought I cleaned off the milkweed branches enough aphids to prevent an aphid population explosion in the caterpillar habitat.

Well, as I learned from other useful websites such as Monarch Watch

you must be very fastidious and clean off every single aphid, because it takes just a couple to procreate thousands of these naughty critters. They will suck the life out of the milkweed leaves and create an oily, icky surface on the leaves.

And slowly we had aphids that became adults that sprouted wings and turned into little gnats, that flew around inside the habitat.

After several days we became so disgusted that we created a caterpillar condo.

We bought several mesh pop-up hampers with lids (can only find these at IKEA, so far).

Then we cut newsprint to fit the bottom of the hampers.

For each condo we used clean 1/2 pint take out containers with lids.

We poked one or two holes in the lids with an awl.

Then we filled each container about half-way with water.

We then just keep cutting leafy stems off the milkweed plant and poking them through the holes of the containers so that the lower part of the stems are at least partly submerged in the water to keep them fresh.

There are about 5 containers per pop-up hamper.

You can see one of them in the top photo where a caterpillar is climbing up the stem, chewing on a leaf.

For a smaller condo we took a small storage container and built something similar for four caterpillars.

We now have five pop-up hampers and three smaller condos for all of these caterpillars.

As long as we don't have any house guests we're good for now.

We do have our indoor cat, but he's 13 years old, so he's not bothering with these hampers.

But when the butterflies start emerging from their chrysalides we will be extra vigilant so that the cat doesn't get too interested before they are released.

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