Tuesday, September 15, 2015

curving back around

curving back around
a black-eyed susan, a monarch
caterpillar seeks
a twig to hang upside down
into a green chrysalis

I've been picking small fuzzy white caterpillars off of my goji berry vine outside our front door. They eat the leaves, so I carefully relocate them. But when I scan for creepy crawlies today, I'm surprised to see a large black, white and yellow striped caterpillar making its way slowly along one of the stems. It's really quite beautiful, with those striking stripes and curvy black horns on both ends. Almost as beautiful as what it will turn into, a Monarch butterfly. It's nice to know that there are still Monarchs around this area, even though they are threatened by all the pesticides applied to monoculture crops.

This specimen, born from eggs laid in September, is a fourth generation Monarch caterpillar. When it emerges from its chrysalis into an orange and black butterfly, it will not die after a couple of weeks of mating and laying eggs, like the first three generations that came before it this year. Instead, it will fly all the way to a warmer climate like Mexico, where it will live for six to eight months before starting the whole cycle again. 

I wonder if it is still looking for a milkweed plant to eat, or whether it's ready to turn into a chrysalis. The strange thing is, I have seen hardly any milkweed plants in our area this year. Usually the swath between the road and the trees is filled with milkweeds. I've looked and looked, but only found one small milkweed plant, with no flowers and no sign of the leaves being chewed by a caterpillar.

These photographs of the sequence of transformations of the Monarch from caterpillar to chrysalis to butterfly are from an excellent website, which describes the entire generational cycle: http://www.monarch-butterfly.com.

Perhaps if I had left the Monarch caterpillar on my goji vine, instead of placing it on a Black-eyed Susan for a colorful portrait, it might have attached itself to a goji stem, turned into a chrysalis and hatched into a butterfly. Wouldn't that be exciting? But the nights are getting cooler, and if frost threatens I may have to bring my potted goji inside. Then what would happen to the butterfly if it hatched inside? A warmer clime for sure, but no mates within thousands of miles!

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