Thursday, June 18, 2015

Milkweed Chronicles, Monarchs in the Making

Summer is nigh in the Sandhills, and it's a hot time tonight in the milkweed patch. 
Those beautiful pests, Japanese beetles, are as abundant in the wild milkweed patch as they are in your backyard flower garden, and bumblebees abound on the blossoms as well.

But we're here to check up on the monarch butterfly eggs, and we're delighted to see that at least one hungry little caterpillar has hatched (devouring the leaf on your left in the photo below). 

A quick glance at the neighboring plant reveals two more monarch caterpillars, both recently deceased, and the likely culprit is only a leaf or two away, about to pierce an unfortunate beetle with its deadly beak.

This fearsome predator, a wheel bug nymph, injects its victim with digestive enzymes, 
then sucks up its innards like a fortified nutritional shake.

Continuing our survey of the surrounding milkweed, we find hope in the discovery of several more caterpillars,

some traversing the fuzzy undulating undersides of the sturdy leaf surfaces, 

others steadily making their way across the emerald green and boldly veined leaf tops.
 These monarch larvae will likely eat their way through another warm night and a hot, humid morning, then continue to dine through the scorching hot afternoon, and right on into another warm evening, barely pausing for rest; 

for this is their one true calling as caterpillars, 
to eat and to grow, to grow and to eat, and eat and grow and eat some more...

Meanwhile, life among the blossoms is moving at a more frenzied pace, as pollinators and nectar-lovers compete for prime real estate among the heavily perfumed flowers in the drooping umbel.

The squirming mass of beetles prevails for the moment, 
as bumblebee prepares to bail in search of less crowded climes...

like the quiet little niche on the leaf below,
now occupied by our future monarch. 

As we depart the hot and humid forest of weeds, 
we happen upon an animal other than the two or six-legged kind, 
quietly introducing a new generation of octoped hunters to the milkweed scene.

And we can't help but wonder, 
as another scorching day yields to night, 

in the wild wild world of the milkweed patch,

will even one of our caterpillars a monarch make?

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