I’m not going to make any New Year’s Resolutions this year.
Do you want to know why? Because more than a month ago, I said I was going to stop raising monarch butterflies and right now I have two butterflies, fifteen chrysalises, and at least twenty-one caterpillars in six mesh enclosures in my house and it’s 63 degrees outside and will get down to 52 tonight. Butterflies can’t fly when it’s cooler than 60 degrees. That’s why they migrate to Mexico for the winter.
But I’m going to have butterflies at Christmas. What have I done?
If I consider the alternative to having taken these caterpillars inside, I wouldn’t be happy, either. They’d have died from the cold. Temps dipped into the forties last night here in Central Florida—definitely not butterfly weather. That’s why butterflies are pictured fluttering by in a sunny garden, going from flower to flower—that’s where they thrive.
Some would say I’m sticking my nose in where I don’t belong, and I should forget about the caterpillars and let nature take its course. As it turns out, I’m not able to do that.
It’s my fault that they’re here. I planted a non-native milkweed that doesn’t die before winter (it actually doesn’t die at all), and as long as it’s here, butterflies are going to lay eggs on it and more caterpillars are going to appear. The answer is to cut this milkweed down six inches above the ground, but I haven’t been able to do that, either, because (duh) it had caterpillars on it.
It might seem that there’s no solution, but there is: next year, I’ll cut down the non-native milkweed in the fall, and leave what I cut on the ground. It will die, but before it does, whatever caterpillars are on it can crawl to the native milkweed. The native milkweed will die when the time is right, and nature will have taken care of itself.
But I’m not there yet. I’m still stuck here.
The female who eclosed from her chrysalis yesterday, by all rights, should be flying away over our high hedge into the neighbors’ back yard, the way the butterflies I release always do, but I can’t let her go out there alone when it’s this cool. The male who eclosed from his chrysalis this morning will be ready to go tomorrow, and I’ll release them together. It will be 69 degrees tomorrow, and tomorrow night will only get down to 63. The next day and following night will be even warmer before temps dip again (since when did I care so much about the weather?), giving them plenty of time to fly south, which I hope they do.
And for all those who go after them, I’m wishing for warm winds to help carry them down to where they belong.
I don’t think there are any more caterpillars on the milkweed in my yard right now, but I’m not going to look, for the same reason I stopped going to the pet store to buy cat food. The pet store has a wall of kitty compartments that is always stocked with cats ready to adopt, and they always seem to look at me like You are my one hope in this world. Please take me home.
Instead, I’m going to concentrate on what I should be doing for the monarchs at this time of year: ensuring I’ll have a generous supply of several kinds of milkweed for the butterflies that come back in the spring. I’m starting giant milkweed from cuttings. I planted tropical milkweed from seeds from my plants. I will plant native milkweed seeds that I bought from Save Our Monarchs (packets of which I am sending out in my Christmas cards!), and I have ordered plugs of another native milkweed to be delivered in the spring.
There’s one more thing: I’m far from being a person who should be making New Year’s Resolutions and not just because I continued to bring caterpillars in when I said I wouldn’t; I purposely amassed enough milkweed plants and nectaring flowers so that I could apply to be an official Monarch Waystation; Mother G’s Milkweed B and B is now officially a thing.
I’m taking it seriously, and I’ve learned a lot, so don’t look for me to make the same mistakes next year as I made this year.
Come spring, the northeast quadrant of my Florida back yard will be a veritable jungle of four varieties of milkweed. I’ve already reduced the danger caused by an overpopulation of lizards. The other dangers around milkweed are part of nature, I’ve learned. I’ll accept that and trust nature to do its job. My job will be to keep the plants healthy and provide three squares a day to every monarch who cares to stop by.
Monarch Resources (click on links):
If you’re interested in learning more about monarchs, I highly recommend this book, Milkweed, Monarchs, and More, which I only found this week. I wish I’d had it months ago.