Marvelous Monarchs

By Sarah Redfield (written June 28th),

The Outdoor Campus Caterpillar 6-19Being the horticulture intern at The Outdoor Campus without a degree in horticulture has been quite an experience. I love coming to work and getting the chance to learn something new each day.

One thing I’ve enjoyed is raising our monarch caterpillars. Again, it’s something new to me so it is very exciting. June 3rd was a slower day here at Sertoma Park, so I went scouting for monarch eggs. Having no idea what the eggs look like, I searched every milkweed leaf for anything weird. Sure enough, I came in with ten eggs.

For the next week I set up the caterpillar viewing area. I placed each leaf in its own plastic cup before placing all the cups in a tank lined with wood chips. Then it was time to watch them hatch, begin to eat their leaves and grow into fat little guys.

Each day I checked the garden’s milkweed for new eggs and was successful in finding at least one a day. A few young visitors had even more success searching than I.

Once all the caterpillars hatched I made sure they had fresh leaves to munch on. Eventually they were so large they could eat an entire leaf in a day.

A few fellow interns named two of them and enjoyed watching them grow. One, Moe, was actually the first to create a chrysalis and should become a butterfly by the 2nd week of July.The Outdoor Campus Chrysalis Sign 6-26

As with every living creature, death is inevitable. A number didn’t make it. It’s funny because after a while I felt I’d adopted these small creatures, so finding them sick or dead hurt.

Just a few days ago it seemed several were becoming ill. This was strange because they were all close to the same age. I worried that I may have been the cause of their illness. Did I poison them by sanitizing the milkweed leaves? Was something wrong with the mother monarch?

After saying goodbye to 6 tiny caterpillars, something had to be done. Thursday morning, I decided to bring them back to my office thinking the cold air in the gallery was increasing the mortality rate. We later learned it was only sixty-six degrees up there! The poor little guys were freezing. So the babies sat next to me at the desk and returned to eating their leaves. They’re happy and warm, and now their life cycle is back on track.

Hopefully we’ll see new chrysalides in the near future. Then we can release the monarchs so they can lay new eggs and repeat the process.

I will be leading a class called Monarch Magic on July 18 from 6:00-7:30 p.m. and July 27 from 1:00 to 2:30 p.m. After the class we will go out to look for monarch eggs you can take home to raise yourself!

Sarah took a break from gardening and caterpillars to help with outdoor cooking for Women's Try It Day.
Sarah took a break from gardening and caterpillars to help with outdoor cooking for Women’s Try It Day

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