Where Oh Where Have My Caterpillars Gone?

| 9/10/2008 5:20:26 PM

Each morning, before anyone else is up, I sit on my front porch with my coffee, and watch my yard wake up. Sometimes, sloshing hot coffee, I stroll, taking stock of what’s happening in my gardens.

Look who I found on the swamp milkweed toward the end of July! A monarch butterfly caterpillar; I named him Clyde. Clyde the Caterpillar. What? Naming an insect is strange? But monarchs hold a special place in the annals of my childhood memories.


Which came first the monarch or the caterpillar? I can’t remember, but two different monarch encounters left a lasting impression, one involving a caterpillar, and the other the butterflies they become. One summer my brother and I found a monarch caterpillar on a milkweed in the field at the end of the street, and brought it home. My dad built a screen cover to put on an old aquarium, and we kept the caterpillar (I don’t remember its name, but I’m sure it had one), in there along with some milkweed leaves and stalks, and watched it turn into a chrysalis. It hung there, attached to the screen, until the beautiful butterfly emerged before we released it back in the field.

The other childhood memory is of a special place. We were camping up north in September, and my parents took us somewhere other campers mentioned was a sight to behold - a field high on a bluff overlooking Lake Michigan, with a single tree. That tree was covered in monarch butterflies – hundreds, perhaps thousands of them, and even more fluttering through the field. Word was they were gathered there, readying themselves to make the flight south. Just imagining seeing that many butterflies gathered in one place is amazing. Being in the center of the gathering was magical.

Clyde was the first caterpillar I’ve seen on the swamp milkweed, and I’ve waited for him for nearly three years. He’s one of the reasons I planted the milkweed; they are a host plant for monarchs. In their caterpillar state, monarchs eat only milkweed leaves. Like Lori wrote in “Of Parsley and Caterpillars”, I was thrilled with my caterpillar’s arrival. My excitement was short lived however; the following morning, when I went out to wish Clyde a good morning, he was missing!!! He was there just the evening before…and it’s not a large garden; I checked everywhere without any luck.

7/24/2018 2:53:23 PM

I was watching my large monarch caterpillars eating on the milkweed. In a few hours I returned and they were gone. They had not gone far however. They did leave the milkweed and move to an overhang on a wall directly behind the milkweed. I understand they do this for more protection from predators. One has already begun forming a chrysalis. I will keep a close eye as they morph into a monarch butterfly.

Cindy Murphy
9/17/2008 4:15:58 PM

Guess what? That last caterpillar made it to a chrysalis; he's still hanging in there.

Cindy Murphy
9/12/2008 6:37:58 PM

The spicebush article was the first, but hopefully not the last time something I've written has appeared in Grit, Lori. My husband and I love the magazine too - it's the only magazine I get that I read cover-to-cover, and is the only magazine he, who not a magazine reader, reads at all. I remember Hank mentioning somewhere on here, that the sunflower photo on the cover of the July/August issue was yours, (also the same issue that had your spicebush swallowtail photos in). I'll be paying more attention too, to the names attached to the articles and photos.