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The monarch caterpillars are here

...and my have they grown within a couple of weeks!

As you may recall from a post last month, I noticed a monarch butterfly circling our backyard, landing on our potted native milkweed plants that started to shoot up from their nubs after winter dormancy.

And now we have fifteen monarch caterpillars, most of them in their fourth or fifth instar, happily munching their way through the milkweed. Of course there are the ubiquitous orange aphids, as you can see to the right of the caterpillar above, to the right.

I keep picking off the aphids because they multiply quickly, infesting the plants. The leaves then become sticky and don't look healthy. This is why I either squish the hordes of aphids that cover the stems of the milkweed, or wipe them off carefully with cotton swabs. At the same time I have to be vigilant so that I don't accidentally touch any monarch eggs.

Last weekend we attended a Butterfly Summit hosted by Annie's Annuals

and learned a great deal from Angela Laws, Monarch and Pollinator Ecologist with the Xerces Society regarding how everyone of us can help Western Monarchs and other butterflies.

As you are probably aware, the Western Monarchs are basically now on life support.

At the Thanksgiving 2018 count, it was determined that the population has drastically dropped within just a year or two. Today, for every 160 monarchs there were 30 years ago, there is only one left flying today.

But we can take action to help the Western Monarchs recover:

- Plant native milkweed and nectar plants where they naturally occur

- Protect existing habitat

- Become an advocate for your local overwintering sites

- Eliminate pesticide use, particularly insecticide.

And a big takeaway for me:

DON"T rear monarchs as a conservation strategy becomes it comes with risks such as introducing disease into the wild population.

This is why we will no longer bring in monarch eggs or caterpillars to raise, no matter how sterile our rearing conditions were.

We will just let the milkweed grow in their pots and if monarchs lay eggs on the plants, that's great. The caterpillars can eat and develop and pupate wherever they wish outdoors.

We also have planted more native nectar plants for the butterflies.

The Xerces Society website:

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