New Zealand is fortunate to have Monarchs, so I've known them all my life. Knowing that they're there is one thing, taking them under your wing (oops- pun) and being protective of them, is something else and has started up a whole new fascination for us.
I have learned that the caterpillars shed their skin 5 times while growing (didn't know that until now). After hatching from a tiny white egg, they eat day and night for 25 to 30 days. Because the caterpillar eats more food than its body weight, it needs to shed its skin in order to grow bigger. Then it sheds its skin one final time, in order to create its chrysalis.
|2 Caterpillars shedding their skin.|
When the caterpillar has grown big and fat and is ready to make its change, it wanders away from the swan plant (milkweed) that hosted its great appetite. I've read about this walkabout and now have seen it for myself. I've noticed that the caterpillars get quite active at this time and can wander a long way from the plant, searching for a safe, sheltered spot in which to pupate. In fact I've heard that they'll travel as far as 30 meters from the plant.
This fellow wandered for almost 2 days before settling under an Agapanthus leaf. He didn't actually travel far, but he certainly explored every leaf of all the plants growing around his swan plant. Finally he stopped wandering and lay completely still for about 12 hours. Suddenly we noticed that he had adhered himself to the leaf and was curled in readiness to pupate.
|Getting ready to hang and curl|
I moved him inside at that point, so he could hang with the others I have in shelter.
Next day I found another fat caterpillar hanging and curling, so in he came too.
Now we have a little clutch of four.................
Last night to our delight, while we were happily sipping our brandies after work, the caterpillar I'd taken inside the evening before suddenly slipped off his skin and wriggled, wriggled, wriggled until his chrysalis had shaped into its pale green final form - that's him on the far left of the picture.
In case you're wondering, I've suspended them inside a small frame we built to keep birds from eating a pot plant. We thought that if the butterflies emerge while we're at work, we will at least have them contained until we get home and can liberate them.