Hi, I am new to the forum. I hope this is where I post. I live about 25 miles northwest of Philly, in the suburbs. There is a lot of milkweed near where I live, but until this year, it wasnt in walking distance. In past years, I have driven around but havent found any caterpillars. I think I only did that two or three times. This year I noticed a clump of milkweed about 100 yards from my apartment, of course right next to a busy highway! I investigated that night, this was June 16th and found the smallest caterpillar I had ever seen! I had found caterpillars one year when I was small, living down the road in a section that wasnt built up. That was about 30 years ago. I found four caterpillars and three of them hatched. Anyway, I remember the caterpillars being much bigger! My first problem was finding a suitable container. No store seemed to have bug zoos. I did locate a small mesh cage in walmart. The caterpillar really didnt seem to be eating much and I was concerned but continued to clean his cage and give him fresh leaves twice a day. I wondered if I made a mistake bringing him inside. When I went to get more fresh leaves on June 19th, I found a second caterpillar in the same clump of milkweed. I had found about four different clumps of milkweed, but read that butterflies lay lots of eggs in one location. Sure enough, this was the only location I found the caterpillars. On June 20th, I found another caterpillar. The cage was getting a little crowded by then. I called all the stores on June 21st and could fnd nothing suitable and walmart had sold out of the little cages. Finally I went to the pet store and got a hermit crab cage. This had no mesh, just plastic. When I got home, I saw that two of the caterpillars had other plans and one was definately starting a cocoon as I could see the silk button. Another was just stretched out on the mesh at the top of the cage. I got the third caterpillar into the new cage so I had two caterpillars in a smallish cage and one in a large cage! I went back to get leaves and found a fourth caterpillar so I had two for each cage. This caterpillar seemed large, but was really the size of the others. Finding it five days later than the first gave it time to grow! The first guy who had started his cocoon finished it on the morning of June 22nd. His friend was in the J shape. Later that evening, I noticed the two caterpillars in the large cage were also in the J shape. The second caterpillar fininshed his cocoon in the morning on June 23rd. When I came home from work, I saw the other two had finished their cocoons so now I have four cocoons! I can see their wings through the cocoons, but the cocoons themselves dont seem to have changed colors yet. I can also see some of their eyes, I think. They look gold and are poking through the bottom of the cocoon. I am not positive on that being their eyes though. So it has been seven days for one of the caterpillars and six days for the other three. I am a little concerned because the second caterpillar built his cocoon so close to the first one and hope whoever gets out first doesnt knock the other one down.
I am sorry for such a long post and I havent actually seen any butterflies, but there must have been one since I found caterpillars! I intend to set any butterflies that come out of their cocoons free after they are out of their vulnerable stage. I dont know if I should release them from my balcony, I live on the second floor. Or if I should take them back to the milkweed patch where I found them. Also, when it looks like they are going to emerge, should I have food for them? And if so, what would they like to snack on? I know the caterpillars only eat the milkweed leaves, not sure what the butterlies eat, though I here there are more options. So just wanted to let everyone know there was at least one monarch outside of philly on June 16th. Thanks for reading!