Where Oh Where Have My Caterpillars Gone?

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

Tags: butterflies, catterpillars,

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.

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.

9/12/2008 8:34:09 AM

OH MY GOSH, it is a small world!!! I'm now going to find my issue with the spicebush article, and re-read it, now that I sorta know who wrote it! I love this! It's cool when you know a little bit about the person behind the article! If you look, you will find a few of my other photos too. My hubby and I absolutely love GRIT! It fits our lifestyle perfectly. So, do tell Cindy, are there any other articles you've written that you would like to share? I will be paying more attention to who wrote each story in the magazine from now on!!

cindy murphy
9/12/2008 6:02:46 AM

Hhmmm, my comment didn't take the first time; I'll try again. Something in your comment, Lori - your mention of the spicebush swallowtail - gave me a hunch. I pulled out my back issues of "Grit", and sure enough, found this: "When Lori Dunn saw the May/June Sow Hoe on the American Spicebush, she thought we might all like to see these photos of the Spicebush Swallowtail caterpillar and butterfly. Thanks, Lori ~ Editors" Guess what? I wrote the American Spicebush article. Small world, huh? Or a well-connected Grit community. Probably both.

9/11/2008 7:05:13 AM

Hi Cindy. It is really cool that you got to watch the whole process of the caterpillar turning into a butterfly when you were young. Just this past year I got my very first monarch cat pictures. We have milkweed growing here, all along field edges and roadways. One day I had my camera with me and noticed the milkweed was blooming. I trudged through the weeds in search of monarchs. When I got to the plant I started a very thorough inspection, hoping to find a caterpillar. There it was, big as you please! I was as happy as a child that had just found a bag full of candy! Of coarse the next few minutes were filled with the constant sound of the shutter on my camera!! Those little buggers do seem to be able to do a very quick disappearing act! Two days ago my hubby saw a spice bush swallowtail cat on our front porch. He called me out to see it. I was in the middle of something,(probably canning tomatoes!!!),and couldn't get my camera just then. A few moments later I went out with my camera, and to my dismay, the little bugger was gone! I searched all over the porch thinking they aren't big enough to get very far! My son came out and helped with the search. Finally he spotted the cat that had crawled down between one of my flowerpots and the planter I had it setting in!

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