Before we go on, remember how I said I might forget something?
Yep, forgot something really important about the milkweed last week.
Have you have ever broken a leaf off of a milkweed plant and seen a milky white substance
ooze from where it had been attached? It's a latex that contains alkaloids and other complexes
including cardenolides. It's a form of steroid (and cardiac arrester) and it IS what makes the caterpillar
and the monarch butterfly poisonous to their predators. The fact that they have the coloring they do in the larval stage and as a butterfly is so that they warn their predators that they will not taste very good. You should not put this plant where pets might eat it as it would make them sick or worse. And you should always take care not to get the latex on your skin and definitely not in your eyes. I'm constantly washing my hands after handling the plant and go through a lot of hand soap in my house! And, when you purchase your milkweed, you need to make sure that it has not been sprayed with pesticide! And for the record, I thought I should add that milkweed is NOT a weed, but a perennial herb.
Mammas got eggs:
A female monarch can lay about 300-400 eggs in her lifetime. She will arch her abdomen under a leaf with her wings closed and lay one egg per leaf, usually. I have even found eggs laid on top of leaves and on the flower buds.
She will taste plants with her feet in order to choose to correct plant to lay her eggs on, which is determined by certain taste chemicals in the plants.
The egg weighs about .00046 grams and they are tiny, only about the size of a pinhead (1.2mm high and .9mm wide). They're cream colored and oval shaped kind of like a football and have vertical ridges. Once mamma lays the eggs, it will take between 3-5 days to hatch, sometimes longer if the weather is cooler. My first batch this season took nearly 7 days.
In the photo below, you can see there is more than one egg. Either another female came by or the same one came back around after laying eggs on other leaves. If milkweed is hard to find they will do what is called "egg stacking" where they lay multiples on one leaf. But typically she will only lay one per leaf and there is a very good reason for that.
Same leaf, four days later . . .
Below, you can if you look closely, see the ridges in the egg and that it's becoming slightly translucent. You can see black at the top of the egg which is the caterpillars head and two black dots below that which are tentacle buds. These eggs are almost ready to hatch . . . which brings me to the reason a monarch mamma will try to lay only one egg per leaf. Once the caterpillar hatches it will immediately eat it's own egg casing (chorion) and if the others haven't hatched yet, it's quite possible that they will eat the other eggs. Yes, they can be cannibalistic. And much to my horror I watched a larger caterpillar grab a 1st instar cat right off of a flower bud and eat it!!
And here it is my friends, a newly hatched (could even be a day old) monarch caterpillar on my fingertip. Isn't it just so cute! They are so very delicate, and I don't recommend holding one at this stage, but I wanted to be able to show you how very tiny they are. Look at your fingertip and imagine how small this really is, about 2mm. At this stage it is now called a larva (or caterpillar) and is in its 1st instar or first stage of 5 in its life as a larva. Since a caterpillars skeleton is on the outside of its body and will need to shed its skin in order to keep growing. During the 1st instar it will be 2-6 mm in length and the front tentacles are only small bumps.
You'll notice it doesn't have any stripes yet and is almost translucent with a greenish-gray coloring...that's hard to see here. Once it eats a certain amount of milkweed it will begin to get it's coloring and stripes.
Here he is a little bigger, still translucent and no distinct color pattern yet - still a 1st instar. If you have eggs and noticed that they've hatched but can't find them, chances are they are hiding in between some of that new green growth at the top of the plant...they are very good at hiding!
Next up we'll be watching them get bigger and bigger and bigger . . . after hatching, they grow
nearly 3000 times their original size!! Let me just say, by the time they get to the 5th instar, they are
a full fledged eating machine, which makes them pooping machines! And since I rear mine inside,
it makes for a lot of clean up duty right before they pupate! They are kind of like babies, except that
they never sleep, lol.
If you missed the beginning of the series, you can find it here.
Until next time,
P.S - I've been getting random failure notices when I leave comments on some of your blogs, but when
I go and look, my comments are there. And I have noticed some comments on my blog whereI never
received my email notifications. So, make sure you check your blog for comments in case you just rely
on email. I know others who have had the same issue lately, not sure what the deal is?