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We Have Poisonous Caterpillars!

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It has been about a week since the monarch butterfly spent breakfast with me and deposited several eggs on milkweed plants in our backyard.  Anne and I decide to search the plants to see if the eggs hatched and to find the caterpillars.

It takes a few minutes, but we find a small caterpillar hanging out in a cluster of milkweed flowers. Another caterpillar is methodically munching on a milkweed leaf and a third is climbing up one of the stems. Anne finds a total of seven caterpillars of various sizes, some obviously hatched recently, others hatched days earlier.

It is interesting that these creatures are eating a poisonous plant; well it’s poisonous if you have a heart. It contains cardiac glycosides that, if ingested, cause heart arrhythmias. When the caterpillars eat the milkweed leaves, they become toxic to the birds and wildlife that consume them. This chemical gives them a bitter taste too, but if eaten, the bird or animal will become sick to their stomach thus avoiding future caterpillars they see. The poison remains in the insects system even after it changes into a butterfly via the chrysalis. I wonder if the raccoon that ate the chrysalis last week became sick. Did it learn a lesson?

For days, Anne goes out and checks her “babies” and tries to find every caterpillar. Some mornings, she does not find them all and worries that something happened only to account for all seven by the afternoon. We look forward to the next stage of the monarch butterfly that is almost magical!

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