I was cutting the grass on Labor Day and found a very cool looking caterpillar on a vine on the back fence. I didn't know what species it was, so I put it (carefully) in a butterfly cage my kids got this summer and googled "black yellow white striped caterpillar" and quickly learned it was a monarch. As I said my kids got the cage this summer, and raised a couple of batches of butterflies, so I thought they would enjoy watching a monarch change into a butterfly. Upon further research I realized that this two-inch caterpillar was about full grown. My daily supply of milkween leaves went largely unused, and two days it crawled up to the top of the cage and eventually hung upside down in a "J" shape. Yesterday we had a chrysalis (and I have to say that is one of the most amazing greens I have ever seen in nature).
I'm glad now I put him in the cage because the remnants of Gustav dumped six inches of rain on us yesterday and I don't know how that would have impeded his change into the chrysalis. My kids and I are excited for the day he emerges.
Also of interest is the fact I learned regarding the plant he was munching on. I didn't realize that the vine he was on was a member of the milkweed family. It is called a sand vine (also a blue vine I think) and grows very quickly. I'm sad to say this often got treated as a weed by me, but I know better now. The nice thing for monarchs is that the sand vine grows all over the place here in St Louis. We seem to have the perfect climate for it.
The reason I mention this plant, aside from the fact that I will be letting it grow freely on my chain link fence from now on, is that during my initial research I found a forum post here at MonarchWatch where someone was asking about seeds for the vine because they would like to grow some. The seed pods are green now but in a few months they will dry out and crack and the seeds with their fluffy white fingers (think dandelionon steriods) will be ready for harvest. If anyone wants some I will mail them to you. Just let me know.
We went from being monarch ignorant to deciding to ensure the success of milkweed (and therefore hopefully the monarchs) in our yard from now on. And we think that is pretty cool. Have a good weekend all.