The small milkweed jungle in our backyard is alive with Monarch caterpillars of all ages. Some caterpillars busily chew leaves and others crawl up or down milkweed stems to find fresh foliage to eat. One caterpillar is fully grown and sneaks away from the jungle to look for a quiet safe place to form its pupa. To some people this scene is creepy, but to Anne and I there is something peaceful about watching this natural setting.
Monarch caterpillars grow 2,000 – 3,000 times their weight from the time they hatch to the time they pupate in just nine to fourteen days. That would comparable to six pound human baby growing to 12,000 – 18,000 pounds. Imagine the amount of baby formula you would need! The caterpillars grow so fast that they outgrow their skin and shed it five times during this short life cycle.
To grow this fast, they are voracious eaters and devour just about every milkweed leaf until the milkweed jungle is nothing but a forest of sticks. But this will cause the milkweeds to grow new leaves that will enable them to become hosts to more Monarch butterfly larvae.
Another caterpillar ripples from the milkweed patch across the grass and climbs up the side of the house to suspend itself over the door. In a previous post you can see how caterpillars change from larvae to pupa. Anne and I are amazed at all the hazards faced by these pupae and we’ll share that experience with you soon.