My husband and I first planted a small butterfly garden in our backyard three years ago. The next year, we expanded it to triple the original size. It has attracted a fair amount of butterflies, hummingbirds, and bees to my backyard. This year we hit the ultimate success! Monarch butterflies began their lives in the garden. Yesterday, we bid goodbye to the last of the newly formed butterflies as they began their month-long journey to the north.
Monarch Caterpillars Appear
Toward the end of March, I was checking on the plants in the butterfly garden. It had been a particularly long and cold winter for the Texas gulf coast, and the plants had only begun to re-emerge from dormancy and freeze-damage. The two milkweed plants had some interesting caterpillars crawling on them. I did some research that afternoon to identify the black, yellow, and white-striped visitors. I was excited to learn that they were monarch caterpillars! After a couple of more days, caterpillars covered the two plants and they had eaten every leaf. My husband and I ran to the nearest garden center and bought two more milkweed plants. We planted them that night. The caterpillars happily moved on to the new plants and continued their eating frenzy. By the time they were done, they had stripped one of the new plants and the other was nearly there.
Caterpillars Become Cocoons
The next step in the process was for the caterpillars, now full from the milkweed leaves, to begin looking for the perfect spot for their cocoon. They were crawling all over the back of the house, the garden, the windows, the fence, and the eaves of the roof. After finding their spot, they attached themselves to it with a white sticky substance. After a few hours of hanging out, they began “jaying,” making an upward bend in preparation for the cocoon. Next thing we knew, our house and garden were covered with bright green cocoons. We never saw the caterpillars transform. It must have been a quick process.
Monarch Butterflies Emerge
Over the next week or so, the wind knocked down some of the cocoons and some turned dark and never did anything else. Most of the cocoons remained a bright green and as time went on, the gold specks on them increased. At our highest count, we counted 23 cocoons. After a big windstorm, we were down to 18. We only counted the ones that we could find, so there may have been more. After a week and a half, suddenly one or two of the cocoons were empty! We had not seen any butterflies yet, so we were not sure if this was good news or bad. The next day we got our answer. Butterflies were emerging from the cocoons! It was a beautiful amazing process and we were so excited to have played a small part in it. Over the next few days, most of the cocoons produced butterflies. After a few hours, the butterflies took off and were on their way to the next destination.
Yesterday, the last of the cocoons produced our last butterfly. It was the end of our little monarch butterfly adventure for this year. We lost a few cocoons, and two of the butterflies did not make it after emerging from the cocoon, but overall somewhere around 12 to 15 butterflies successfully emerged from our garden. We are like proud parents and feel blessed to have been a part of this awe-inspiring natural encounter. We hope we are lucky enough to do it again next spring.