The weather here in the Kickapoo Valley of southwest Wisconsin this past week has been ideal. Lots of warm sunshine with temperatures in the high 70s to the low 80s. At night it would feel rather cool at times when the mercury would drop to the high 40s. The clear nighttime skies let a beautiful full moon shine a golden light on everything below.
While on a walk along the edge of a cornfield this afternoon, I noticed a familiar caterpillar on the stem of a vine. It was 2 1/2 inches long with black, yellow and white stripes. It doesnít seem like I see as many of these monarch butterfly larvae as I used to.
Iíve read that the monarchís winter grounds in Mexico are in danger because of development. The monarchs are members of a family of butterflies known as milkweed butterflies. They feed almost exclusively on the leaves of the milkweed. For this reason, I never pull or mow these plants in hopes that the monarchs will find them.
These showy orange and black butterflies are the only butterflies that migrate south then back north in the spring. When its time to head north in the spring, the adults will stop along the way and lay their eggs. Their offspring will return to the starting point.
I always encourage young people to get a closer look at a caterpillar by gently picking it up. Thereís nothing to be afraid of, as they are perfectly harmless.
I once saw a fall migration of thousands of individuals. This living cloud of orange butterflies dropped down from the sky and literally covered a large apple tree in the backyard. They roosted there for the night and left when the morning sun warmed them.
Itís a good time to see all kinds of different caterpillars. These interesting butterfly larvae will soon make a cocoon or chrysalis where they will spend the winter. Next spring or summer they will emerge as the beautiful flying flowers we call butterflies.
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