Nature journaling is a great way to keep track of life cycles happening right in your own yard. I’ll share a nature timeline from my house with you.
March 29: In a flower bed only 20 feet from my front door are quite a few orange milkweed plants that finally showed above ground today. Another name for this plant is “butterfly weed” because many butterflies love the nectar, and it is also a host plant for the Monarch butterfly.
April 11: I discovered a female Monarch butterfly laying eggs (the scientific term is ovipositing) on the small 4 to 6 inch tall butterfly weed plants. I took photos of her and one of the eggs she laid.
The female Monarch may have only been in this country for 2 or 3 weeks. She could have been born in Mexico this spring and has been steadily flying north, laying eggs as she goes. She could actually be one that migrated south last fall and overwintered with millions of other Monarchs in Mexico.
May 1: I’ve been searching for Monarch caterpillars, but haven’t found any yet. Should be any day now!
May 8: I found four Monarch caterpillars on four different butterfly weed plants. They were about a half inch long. I completely missed them when they were very tiny. After the eggs hatch, they usually eat their eggshell and then hide in the closely-bunched young leaves at the top of the plant. There they can eat and grow bigger in that hiding place away from the sharp eyes of predators, and mine too.
May 10: Temperatures got down in the 30’s last night. I worried this cold snap might kill the little caterpillars.
May 11: I could find only one caterpillar, but hoped the others were snuggled in and hidden among the leaves.
May 12: I found three of the caterpillars today. Maybe the other one is just well-hidden. The caterpillars are about an inch long now, so about half-grown.
They are not hiding but are all out eating in plain sight. Their striped yellow, black, and white patterns are a warning to predators. Some of the toxins from the milkweed are stored in their bodies to make them taste bad if something tries to eat them. These colors are called warning colors.
In the coming week I’ll continue watching to see what happens with these little caterpillars. Hopefully the story in my Naturalist’s Notebook will have a happy ending. It would be great if I find a chrysalis and then witness a new adult emerge!
Keep observing and keep writing in YOUR journal. There are stories to be found right around you.