I’m hearing surprise from some dedicated Tampa butterfly gardeners that they’re seeing monarch caterpillars pupating so late in the year. (Above, monarchs Kathy Carlsen shot recently on porterweed in her Westchase garden.)
The three little guys at left were on Kelly Schubert’s milkweed in her Brandon garden late last month. She found them wandering aimlessly the day before I took this picture, and kindly guided them to their favorite food.
My butterfly friends are thrilled to see new chrysalises forming but worry they’re so late in the year, the cats won’t develop into butterflies. And they all think it’s very odd.
Below, a brand-new monarch chrysalis — shot today by Kathy.
Laura Barber of South Tampa, like Kathy, creates “safe nests” for some of her little cats
to protect them from wasps, lizards
and other predators. (I wrote about her butterfly adventures in the St. Pete Times a few weeks ago.)
She sent me a great email yesterday, complete with photos, about a really wonderful monarch experience (OK — wonderful, but a little sad, too) last week.
“I had had a stressful day on Wednesday, and when I came home I was delighted to find (this newly emerged monarch) healthy and resting. It was a true blessing.
“This was the final monarch (of 13) who emerged Wednesday. Many of the ones before him were ill and had to be euthanized (very common for them to be infected with Ophryocystis elektroscirrha, a parasite affecting only monarch and queen butterflies). OE is aggressive and will spread to other monarchs if the ill butterflies (who have little chance of survival) are in the yard spreading the disease on the plant leaves and stems.
“The other 12 butterflies had emerged long ago, and I was worried this chrysalis was never going to mature.”
It was cold and rainy the day this guy emerged, and new butterflies need warmth, so Laura coaxed him onto her sweater to take him inside.
“He crawled up my sweater to the top of my head and wouldn’t leave,” Laura wrote. “I came inside and worked for about three hours with him on top of my head (it tickled!). I could not get a good photo of him on top of my head (difficult to take a photo of your own head, I learned).”
The next morning, when it was sunny and a good time to release her new friend, Laura found him (and yes, it’s a him) he appeared to have died overnight!
“He was so still and motionless and no longer clinging upside down to the screen mesh, but laying on his side on the bottom of the nest,” she wrote.
She did the only thing she could think of — she took him outside to the sun. And her butterfly came back to life.
As for whether it’s strangely late to see monarchs pupating in Central Florida? I found a University of Florida article that indicates it’s perfectly normal.
And Edith Smith of Shady Oaks Butterfly Farm in Brooker, Fla., (near Gainesville) says the monarchs will keep laying and feeding as long as the milkweed is green.
“They don’t always live to adulthood,” she notes, and they’ll take longer to emerge from their chrysalises when it’s cooler.
“In mid-summer, it takes about seven days. In late fall, in north Florida, it can take up to three weeks.
“They don’t do well when temperatures are below 60 degrees. BUT they can survive cold nights and a couple of cool days. They survive temperatures in the upper 30s without trouble as long as it warms up and they can eat again.”
Plenty of monarchs make their homes here year-round (just like people!) and they breed year-round (just like people!)
So keep the milkweed growing and keep watching for monarch cats.