Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Well, not a Monarch, but...

   I'm not talking about a member of the Royal Family, I mean Monarch butterflies. I've only seen two Monarch butterflies all year, yes two! No Monarch caterpillars either. This is despite having around six dozen milkweed plants and every available nectar plant they could possibly be interested in. For some reason we just don't have a lot of the big showy butterfly species around here, no matter which year.
   I do, however, have a lot of skippers and moths, if that counts for anything. If we can't have Monarchs, at least we have these. Meanwhile, we have attracted Milkweed Tussock Moths to our habitat. I realize they're not as prestigious as Monarch butterflies and the moths themselves are rather drab, but the caterpillars are really quite attractive. Just because they're a lowly moth doesn't make them any less important in the grande scheme of things. The highlight of watching them grow over the past week and a half has been seeing some predatory wasps come down, snatch one at a time, and carry it off to feed their young. When I first noticed the caterpillars, there must have been at least a hundred or so, and each day there's been fewer and fewer thanks to the wasps and random acts of stupidity on the part of the caterpillars. Some days I'd find caterpillars in really strange far-off areas, like crawling across the driveway, nowhere near pupating stage or running out of milkweed, in an obvious attempt to commit caterpillar suicide. I'm not worried that they'll denude my milkweed plants before the Monarchs can get to them, I have plenty of plants to share. Besides, I think we live in some sort of Monarch vacuum. I'm guessing my latitude falls in a range where they're just flying over and not looking to feed, mate, lay eggs, and die.

Here are some shots of the Milkweed Tussock Moth caterpillars in sequence as they've grown:

Hanging on by a thread...literally!
Like I said, about a hundred or so.

After about a week, they started to get more color.

For whatever it's worth, they're dining on Swamp Milkweed, which, by the way, failed to flower again this year.

I think they look like little orange, black, and white bristly toothbrushes. Not that I'd consider brushing my teeth with them, silly.

Do you think it's a coincidence they have the same colors as a Monarch butterfly caterpillar?

Come on, they are pretty cool looking, aren't they?

Look at those chompers! That leaf doesn't stand a chance!


  1. So many caterpillars! As you said like brushes...


  2. You make them look adorable. I love the hanging one! No monarchs here either.

  3. I love that they are essentially the same colors as the monarch caterpillars--their orange is just a little more powerful!

  4. This year has been so atypical in many ways. Not too many Monarch's here in New England as well and bloom times for things are out of whack. Plenty of cabbage whites and swallowtails though.

  5. Tussocks are so kewt!
    The monarchs generally come to middle Georgia in early Spring, and in August or so. Don't give up hope, provide the milkweeds, and the other flowers, they'll show.

  6. This year with the drought most of the country is facing, be happy you still have the plant!!! Beautiful caterpillars of any type are a bonus:)

  7. Thanks for stopping by and commenting everyone!

  8. We had more butterflies in spring, fewer after the drought took hold. Have seen one or two Monarchs at a time every week or so. Occasional Red Admirals, Painted Ladies, and Swallowtails. Lots of skippers. Oh, and Japanese Beetles!

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