Winter monarch babies — yes, believe your eyes

monarch butterflies on purple porterweed in Katy Carlsen's Tampa gardenthree black and yellow striped monarch butterfly caterpillars on milkweed in Brandon, Florida

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.

new monarch butterfly chyrsalis on dec. 11 in tampa florida








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.

She wrote:

“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.

newly hatched monarch butterfly dries wings dec. 7 tampa florida

“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).”
I think she got a great shot!
newly hatched monarch butterfly drying out on a person's head. december 2011 tampa florida  “He was very attached to me and didn’t want to leave my  finger yesterday when I tried to release him,” she wrote.
   She posted the picture below on Facebook with  the  caption,  “Laura Miller Barber with some  outside help for her writer’s block.”monarch butterfly hatched dec. 7 dries out on laura barber's finger as she types. tampa, florida












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.


  1. Glad to see this post…live in FernandinaBeach–North of Jacksonville 10 miles South of GA …mild fall & winter ..have 7 beautiful monarch caterpillars for over a week now on my milkweed! plentiful adults as well! hoping they mature before colder weather moves in…expecting high temps of 78 & lows of 44 for next 10 days….hoping for the best…have been doing this since childhood when I lived in Orlando!

    • Hi Kim!! We’ve been so lucky with the mild December — and the butterfly cats are lovin’ it, too. You’re so far north of us, I’ll toss out a prayer for your 7 cats. But from what my butterfly expert said, they should be able to pupate and hatch as long as you don’t get a big freeze. Please keep us posted!

      • Kim Ferman says:

        Thanks…I’m praying tooo….up to 9 now with a new one today barely an inch long but several “fatties” that r 2-3 inches and going strong LOL! hoping enough milkweed to go around!

        • It’s so funny — hard to imagine running out of milkweed but I hear of so many people who do. I’m trying giant milkweed now. Doesn’t look anything like the one we know but it has huge leaves. Monarchs are supposed to love it (and the butterflies do go to it) but haven’t yet seen a cat on one.

  2. WOW! ups and downs w/ the cats! had 10 then 8 mysteriously disappeared over a couple of weeks….i live w/ a heavily wooded area behind me w/ alot of wintering birds too so i am guessing that the birds used several for “learning” purposes that these cats aren’t a good choice….anyway w/ hard freeze moving in decided it was tiime to do or die literally,….turned my garden tub into a garden tub albeit temporary….got 3 pots of milkweed from the nursery & relocated the 2 remaining cats….both just became chrysalis today!! Plan to keep them “safe” until they are ready to literally spread their wings and fly….then nature will take its course. An especially nice bonus has been seeing my husband in awe of the entire process & is so supportive of my cause.

    • My third cat — brought in before the freeze — just turned into a chrysalis tonite. Darn it! I’d been checking him every 15 minutes since last night, because I so want to see the cat-to-chrysallis process! I went out to dinner tonight and, boom, he was a chrysalis when I got home.
      So I have three hanging out with me for the next week or so. And, like you, it’s cool to see my hub get into it, too, as well as everyone who visits. Sounds like we may be having butterfly birthdays on the same day, Kim!

      • Yes…I was doing the same thing watching and waiting…my husband was initially in a panic thinking one had disappeared..LOL had seen it wiggling-unaware that the chrysalis process was beginning then came back about 15 minutes later and the cat was gone….took him a bit to “see” the chrysalis as it blended in so well and it was his FIRST time ever seeing one! Will keep you posted :)

        • Oh my gosh, that’s too funny! … My hub (who acts like he doesn’t care) watched one of my J caterpillars for hours after I left for work. He missed the performance, but thought maybe there was more to come because part of its little butt was still sticking out. (Laura Barber, a South Tampa butterfly lover, said that was just part of the molt, for lack of a better word, that didn’t fall off.)
          I so hope my hub and I get to see one hatch together. I just know he’ll forget he’s Mr. Tough Guy and get as excited as me.

          • WOW!!! HUGE surprise today! apparently all of my cats weren’t lost …just wandered ….found 2 chrysalis nearly 100 ft away on the lower flashing of my house! by the looks should be hatching in a day or so…verry brown/black…the 2 indoor cats/chrysalis are developing nicely & should be about 4 more days I’m guessing….If the ones I just found hatch successfully…they will have survived at least 3-4 nights of 23-34degree temps!!! we’ll see!

          • I am AMAZED they survived! My first cat hatched about two days ago, while I was at work, darn it. Husband kept an eye on it though and called me four times with progress reports. I brought the nest to my office the next day because I had two more green chrysalides and thought it would be cool for my co-workers to share the fun. No. 2 hatched this morning. I posted pix at

  3. WOW thats sooo cool….cant believe it but found 2 more “awol” cats they “missing”ones appear to be much farther along in the process. Makes sense tho since they disappeared 3-5 days before I brought the other two inside…..I’m sure the warmer weather where you are has helped them develop more quickly…hoping to see some good progress this week…should be about 80 tomorrow. Your pix are awesome….& it sounds like your hubby is like mine….LOL mine would be calling me too w/ updates & takin pix :)

  4. Melanie Nordwall says:

    Hello Penny,
    Can you connect me with Kathy Carlsen (mentioned in one of your Dec 11, 2011 post)? I would like to ask if she is willing to show her garden to a group of Westchase Girls Scouts. I can’t find her name in the phone book. Please send her my email. Thanks for your help.
    Melanie Nordwall

    • Hi Melanie — I’m sure Kathy would love sharing her garden with your Scouts (and what a great idea for an activity.) I’ll shoot her a mail with your contact info.

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