|2nd, 3rd and 4th; or 3rd, 4th, and 5th Monarch Instars|
So this last Saturday I went outside to do my normal garden walk about (mostly to check on the veggies to see if they needed water), and I came across a caterpillar on the milkweed. So I went and grabbed my phone to research whether it was a Monarch caterpillar or a Queen caterpillar. 2 sets of antennae looking things...Monarch! huzzah! and then I noticed another one, and another one and so on and so forth and I'm sure at some point I went from ecstatic to forlorn and defeated because the survival rate of monarchs in the wild in caterpillar stage is about 10% (per the presentation from Chuck at the Monarch Appreciation dealie at Zilker in mid-September). And so I decided I needed to help the caterpillars. But I didn't really know how - it looked like, based on MonarchWatch's website that I could make a caterpillar container out of Ziploc tupperware and an old screen I use to keep cats from digging in my garden after planting seeds. I fashioned 5 containers of monarchs, 2 per container, and balanced the screen on top; then I found another later in the day, and two more the following day. In the end I had 13 caterpillars, mostly all at the same stage, but with 2 at least one instar behind.
My containers are set up thusly:
- 1 tupperware-ish container approximately 3" deep.
- 1 wetted paper towel lightly squeezed
- 1 milkweed leaf per caterpillar in container
- 2 caterpillars per container, maximum of 3
- Ventilated covers (I just use an old window screen and cover all of the containers at once...this requires that all the containers are the same height in order to work, naturally)
Put the wet paper towel in the bottom - I open it up to cover the entire bottom so it catches all the catpoop. Lay leaves on top. Insert caterpillars. Replace the paper towel every day, replace leaves and add more leaves as needed. The first day or so I got away with adding one leaf per caterpillar per day. Around Monday morning I noticed that some of the containers were empty of food (I added fresh leaves Sunday night), so then I started adding one leaf per cat in the morning and one in the evening. By Tuesday I was adding 2 leaves per cat twice a day. Today (Thursday), I'm up to 3 leaves per cat twice a day. But of course, most of them are in 5th instar stage so they should be pupating soon.
Pupating. Crap. Forgot about pupating. Pupating in a tiny little not-super-deep container probably isn't the best. This meant that I needed to come up with some way to allow the caterpillars to pupate and have space for emergence (enough space to allow them to hang upside down to get fluid into their wings and flap their wings about). So I went to the good ol' Walmart (because I figured by Sunday that there was no way for me to find one of those fancy zippered butterfly cages in time for the pupating stage), and started looking for some of those screen food covers. I didn't find any. But I did find a 13" cube pop-up laundry baskets. I then used some tulle and duct tape to fashion a top to the container, which attaches with clothes pins and safety pins. Wednesday night I moved three of the tuperwares into it since those caterpillars are in 5th instar which means they should be pupating soon.
Of course, after going through this hassle, I found that I could have put my plethora of old yogurt containers to good use. Oh well, maybe I'll do that for the next few caterpillars that are reaching the 5th instar stage to see which way works better.