Ornamental and edible gardening adventures.

Secrets caterpillars keep

This male monarch enjoys the tithonia bloom. But he has a dark secret.  

I've been raising monarch butterflies for at least four seasons now, and this year I learned something new.

It's a bit shocking.

I couldn't believe my eyes — but then friends who have raised monarchs confirmed that it can be true.

Caterpillars can be .... cannibalistic.

Such as my friend here.

Hannibal awaits his turn to join the other butterflies for the release party. (This photo was taken after his wings were dried. The post it note shows the day I found him in the garden as a wee little innocent caterpillar.)

When he was a young caterpillar lad, sharing his space with other baby caterpillars, he mowed down a slightly smaller caterpillar. I'll leave it at that. 

I found the shocking scene when I was performing my daily task of cleaning containers. Since they were so small, they were still living in a small plastic container with a lid. There was a milkweed leaf. It was still fairly fresh. But apparently, if you are a caterpillar, sometimes you could be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Like between the leaf and the other hungry caterpillar. (RIP little guy.)

I shouldn't have been shocked, but I was. I don't usually name the butterflies I release, but I do anthropomorphize them a little bit. So this shocking behavior earned this caterpillar his own container to grow in. And a name. 

He still grew into a beautiful butterfly, ready for his trip to Mexico. When it was time to release him outside, I let him join the others in the mesh enclosure when it was time to release. He then blended in (since I did not order monarch tags this year). All was forgiven. Perhaps he doesn't even remember that night of his milkweed-induced frenzy.

But if he did, hopefully he learned his lesson. 


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