Disappearing caterpillars

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  • #42160

    Sandra CA

    Even with my help it seems there’s so little I can really accomplish in trying to raise adult monarch butterflies. I need to find the right balance and am hoping you can share your thoughts on this manner.

    The basic problem I’ve approached this two ways and they both have problems.

    1) Trying to raise almost all the eggs through adult monarch: Not having near enough milkweed. I’ve got 5 mature plants that are waist high and I had to go out and buy 5 more plants. Even with that, I ended up releasing many 3/4 instars. I have about 38 chrysalis in my butterfly cage.

    I won’t be able to do that again, or at least not for months while the milkweed grows back.

    Then I switched my strategy and thought I’ll just give the eggs and the little guys their best shot during their vulnerable 1st and 2nd instars. So I released some 3rds. But now I’m finding these are just disappearing. Also I’m finding spiders in the garden and it’s just so frustrating. I found 3 4th instars from my previous release and put them back in the cage so they would pupate there. Less than a day later when they tried to pupate they stalled and died. They were diseased-the dreaded tachnid fly. So those were killed too! I’m almost certain they were ones I had hand raised which means they got sick in about a week. Last year I was not doing this and rarely saw any caterpillars.

    I know some of you raise 100’s every year and I’m sure there are many in my position. How do you do the most good?

    P.S. I have about 20 cuttings going and am nursing seedlings. I find the monarchs are laying eggs on milkweed that’s only 3-4″ high near the mature plants. I even dug some of those up to tend more carefully so they’ll grow back their leaves, lol.

    Suggestions appreciated.

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  • #42161


    Hi Sandra

    Nice to hear from you again!

    We all do things differently (of course). I’ve been where you are before – trying to save them all – and then found because I was doing too much I got really stressed AND in the end there were so many and the food quality was not the best and I got hit by a virus orpathogens (or something) that started killing them all.

    You’re better to do a few well, than get frustrated by it all. I have on occasions heard from people who say they won’t do it again “it’s just too distressing seeing the wasps (or whatever) get them.”

    It’s our fault. People have expectations and have forgotten that Nature is what it is… natural. We have these lists of “likes” and “dislikes”. We like (love!) monarchs and we don’t like wasps, ants (and fleas, flies, mosquitoes, ticks, bedbugs etc). Our list of likes and dislikes is endless! And if we could we’d get rid of all those on our dislike list. That’s not how it’s meant to be.

    But in Nature, everything is there for a purpose (to continue the species) and there are controls for when one gets out of hand. I’ve told the story about my neighbour/farmer friend, so won’t tell it here again but you can see it here:

    Disease and Nature

    I hope that this puts it into perspective for you – and you’ll also get tips from others. I’m not saying my philosophy is right, to each their own.


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