It was there and then it was gone – Monarch Caterpillar Watercolor

watercolor sketch of monarch caterpillar anatomy

It was there… I was looking at the reward for planting common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) in my backyard. Several times the hubby almost pulled it because he thought it was a weed (well it is), I pleaded for him to leave it and to look the other way.

photo of monarch caterpillar on milkweed

And there it was. A monarch caterpillar (Danaus plexippus). To say I was ecstatic was an understatement.

photo of common milkweed along a sunny white fence

The first year, one single milkweed happened to grow unexpectedly. Year two, it multiplied to a few plants. During year two, I took the seeds from the pods and spread them all over the sunny side of the backyard. This year, year three, there are many milkweed…even four which happened to grow on the other side of the fence.

Unfortunately, a few hours after I discovered the monarch caterpillar it was gone. I looked above and below each leaf of every milkweed. Gone.

There are two possibilities:

  • (The pessimistic option) I saw a stink bug on one of the milkweed plants. I had NO idea that stink bugs/soldier bugs were natural predators of the caterpillar. It was only after it was missing that I thought to do some research on what could have eaten it. Because the “milk” sap from the milkweed is toxic, I didn’t think I had to worry about this caterpillar. I was wrong. The Monarch Joint Venture website even has a picture of a stink bug attacking a monarch caterpillar. The site also lists a host of other natural predators.
  • (The optimistic option) This caterpillar looked pretty big. It possibly was in its 4th or 5th instar stage. When the monarch caterpillar reaches 5th instar it will leave the host plant to pupate. It will travel up to 10 meters away, pick a nice spot on another plant or even a man-made structure, spend some time in a J-hang formation, and develop its chrysalis.

To prevent my heart from being broken over another lost caterpillar (click here to read about the black swallowtail caterpillar), I’m going to stick with the optimistic version.

To make sure I help the Monarch butterfly population and any other butterfly, I ordered a butterfly cage. Hopefully I will have updates on some success stories soon!

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