Monarch butterfly lays eggs in new butterfly garden

The new butterfly garden at Thoreau School, funded by Friends of Lake Wingra, is a success!

On August 18, I dropped by the garden and was delighted to see a colorful monarch waltzing around the garden--surprised since I have seen so few this summer.

Overview of the butterfly garden, surrounded by a black silt sock.
Thoreau School is in the rear.

The female flitted around in wide circles, as if searching for the scent of a milkweed plant--since I doubt if their eyes are good enough to recognize various milkweed species.

Flying over marsh milkweed.
The hind wings are tucked down in the center to form a vertical stabilizer, like the tail of an airplane.

I ran to get my camera from two blocks away. When I came back, she was still flitting around.  She flew almost out of sight, then came back.  She rejected the colorful garden of a house across the street--milkweed is the only food for monarch caterpillars.

Suddenly, she veered and landed on a marsh milkweed, down low among the foliage.  Soon I could see her abdomen bent sharply downward, touching the surface of a leaf (photo below).

The egg is a tiny, light-green ball at the tip of her abdomen.
It's the size of the head of a pin, about 1 mm.
Click on photo to enlarge.

Almost finished!  In this view, you can't see the egg.
Note the coiled tongue (proboscus).

Between sessions down in the foliage, the female flew around and landed on flowers to "nectar"--that's when they use their long, coiled tongue to sip sugary nectar from flowers for energy.

You can see her bent tongue to the left of her head.

She probably laid several eggs on different* marsh milkweed plants.  When I searched where I had seen her, I quickly found one egg sitting on the top side of a leaf.  

I gently removed the leaf, since I didn't think the egg was safe from predators or the sun where it was laid.  All the other monarch eggs I've found have been on the underside of leaves, and caterpillars always go to the underside to feed.

The egg is white or pale green, the size of the head of a pin, and with distinctive fluted ridges.

I took the egg home and placed it in a bowl, with a few drops of water, and covered with plastic (with holes) to keep humidity high.  I anticipate hatching in 5-10 days.  Then I'll offer the caterpillar to teachers at the school to raise, or place the caterpillar back in the garden.

What I learned
If you see a Monarch down in the foliage of a milkweed, they may be laying an egg!

It's curious that she only nectared and laid eggs on marsh milkweed, even though there were many butterfly weed plants and flowers.  These are also milkweed--and suitable food for larvae.  Perhaps she preferred marsh milkweed because she spent her "caterpillarhood" on this species.

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In addition to funding from Friends of Lake Wingra, the following people were involved in planning, construction, and maintenance of the new garden...
  • Thoreau PTO 
  • Thoreau School 
  • Karen Faller
  • David Thompson 
  • Steve Glass 
  • Marta Sells 
  • Laura Flinchbaugh (& Charlotte)
  • Larry Dooley
  • Abby Kwapil-Matzke (& Noah)
  • Jason DuRocher
  • Betsy Parker
  • Lauren Ott
*  They lay their 200 eggs on different individual plants.  That's because the caterpillars eat a huge amount--two on one plant might run out of leaves to eat.  And the marsh milkweed leaves are much smaller than common milkweed leaves.

More photos

Article on the 2014 migration north--somewhat better than last year.

How to raise monarchs: Link 1.  Link 2.

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