After a few weeks of ...now you see them, now you don't, we've observed three caterpillars eat their way into fifth instar.
This number is just a fraction of the total of over seventy monarchs we raised and released last year. Now that we just let them develop outdoors on the milkweed, as per advice of the Xerxes Society, it's disheartening that just a handful survived through their fifth instar.
I first saw five caterpillars when they were very tiny, all on different milkweed plants.
One disappeared after a week, another was bitten in half.
Then I saw none for over a week.
Last weekend I saw a caterpillar (in the above image), munching on a Showy Milkweed leaf.
It was already in fourth instar.
After a day or so, it was in fifth instar, large and plump.
This just raised my spirits.
Two days ago we saw another caterpillar, resting on the leaf of a tiny milkweed plant that I had transplanted to a small flowerpot a few weeks ago. It must be one of the original five that we saw. But why would it crawl out of one of the large pots full of milkweed, and end up on this tiny plant?
My guess is that it had crawled onto the outside of the pot of milkweed, where it originally was, to morph into its next instar. Then when it was in that instar somehow it crawled down to the ground and wandered around until it found the small flower pot.
I quickly moved the little flower pot next to large pot with a lush milkweed plant so that the caterpillar could easily crawl onto other leaves.
Within a day it grew in length and thickness, happily munching.
The caterpillar had some fine particles of soil or wood chips on it, so it must have been on quite a trek.
You can see how it is enjoying its milkweed feast.
And now both caterpillars have left the milkweed plants, off to find a suitable place (hopefully) to pupate. Oh, how we hope and pray that all goes well with these creatures, that they develop into healthy monarchs.
The Western monarch population isn't doing well this year, and we are witnessing the decrease in population here in our own backyard. But we do all that we can, by providing nectar plants and habitat.