Monday, June 13, 2016

Merrie Monarchs madly munching on milkweed (photos)

My not-so-local red and orange milkweed, from Meadow in a Can had three fat monarch caterpillars on it. I've waited three years for this moment. Needless to say, I'm jealously  guarding it.

This fat fellow fell off his milkweed perch, then decided he liked my finger, tickle-tasting it all the way. I felt like a little kid again. Who remembers picking up woolybears, just because? I had a hard time convincing him that he couldn't stay on my finger. Most impractical.

I'm having trouble telling the front end from the back end on these guys, so I don't know whether they're coming or going. I think the short antennae are the front end. Dual suspension pipes, antennae at both ends.

Four, no make that five caterpillars are voraciously eating the milkweed down to the ground. They're huge. Soon, now. Found a new one eating a flower. Never been so happy to have caterpillars destroy my plants.

Think I'll call him Al-Hookah. These ones are only eating milkweed. They won't touch the verbena. Don't think you'd find these guys palatable, not with all that noxious milkweed inside them. 

The swallowtail caterpillar in the front yard is even more amazing, he has orange horns that deliver little poopy stinkums if you disturb him. 

That said, I used to play with woolybears, and hairy tent caterpillars, they're a type of procession caterpillar. They'd crawl up my finger, following each other like a little train. Maybe because I didn't disturb their hairs, but I never got stung. They're amazing critters. Not like the fat green bastards that leveled my kale. They had serious camo, blended right in with the stems.

Here's hoping my monarch caterpillars make it to chrysalis phase. I got mad and sprayed the orange aphids on the flowers with Spick & Span laced with alcohol. Then I discovered the little caterpillars. Oops! So I hosed the bush down and hand-squashed the rest of the bleeping aphids. What a putrid orange mess.

The caterpillars are toxic, but only if you eat them. For the most part, you might get a rash. The hairs on wooly caterpillars do spell DANGER! Avoid me. These guys are as smooth-bottomed as Alice in Wonderland's friend.

I've been staked out in the front garden with camera at the ready waiting to see if I can find any swallowtail caterpillars on my fennel bush. Mom swallowtail has been hovering a lot lately. Especially since I trimmed the fennel. I did check for eggs and critters. So far, nada. 

Hard part is to trick the camera into focusing on the right spot. Most are slightly out of focus. I wind up overshooting to compensate and throw at least half of them away.

A friend said that the milkweed I have (Asclepias curassavica) is not as good one for monarchs because it doesn't have as many toxins as native milkweeds. I got it from the California native species variety of Meadow in a Can (was supposed to be a CA species), and had no idea what it was until it flowered last year, I wasn't even sure it was a milkweed until I found the caterpillars on it. I'm wondering why it would've even been included with CA native species.

There are more than 100 different species of milkweed, and they are not all created equally.  
Asclepias curassavica, tropical milkweed, is native to the American tropics.Common names include bloodflower , cotton bush, hierba de la cucaracha, Mexican butterfly weed, redhead, scarlet milkweed, and wild ipecacuanha.
Not much I can do if it's not the right species now, other than pull it up, and it has visitors. So I'm going to leave it for now. Maybe I can find a slip of the right one for next year. If these three make it to adulthood, their colors alone will keep the birds away. The mimic queen butterfly banks on it.

I wanted to make an avant garden, but found the idea was already taken.
A Mexican poet I met in Rotterdam in the 1990s, Homero Aradjis started a foundation to save butterflies. This is an open letter call to action to President Barack Obama signed by the poets of the world, many of whom are my friends.

Shelley was right: Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world..

Resurrected and revised from a Facebook post. Lots of great links on monarchs posted there. added 6/2017.

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