On July 18, M and Aa and I spent the afternoon at the Living Prairie Museum's Monarch Butterfly Festival.
Whilst there, I signed up for a membership with the friends of the LPM. The membership came with a square silver planter they were calling 'the prairie in a pot' in that contained four representative plants that would typically be found on the tallgrass prairie.
Given that this was a monarch festival, it was no surprise that there was a small swamp milkweed seedling in the pot.
What WAS a surprise was that there was a monarch on the milkweed in the pot.
We discovered the caterpillar a few days later, nibbling delicately on the milkweed's few leaves.
The next morning, the milkweed was a bare stem. And we quickly realized that if we didn't want to decimate the monarch we'd have to find it more food.
Now monarchs only eat milkweed. A friend of ours told us that the school garden near their house had plenty of milkweed, so we ventured forth with scissors, water, and a mason jar.
We put the mason jar with the freshly cut milkweed sprig on our dining room windowsill next to the 'prairie in the pot.'
Even though we examined the milkweed closely before snipping it, clearly we didn't look closely enough or we were too worried about being heckled by overzealous school administrators or righteous neighbours for pilfering from the garden.
Because the next day, we had two happily munching monarchs on our windowsill. And then, the next day, a few more.
When the milkweed seedling sprouted new leaves, the monarchs negotiated a path from mason jar to pot and ate it down. Again.
Eventually, the original monarch, now the size of one of Aa's fingers, disappeared.
This morning, I realized I still had three largish caterpillars (and two smaller ones) that would probably also disappear at some point. So I put the remaining caterpillars in a bug observation container of Aa's and swept up the fallen leaves and caterpillar poop.
I was moving a dining room chair out of the way when I saw the cocoon.
And it is like minutely worked jade. And it is like a capsule of the rarest medicine. And it is like a carved bullet.
And all three of us laid down on the floor to take pictures of it.
I don't quite know what we're going to do, precisely, when the original monarch emerges from its chrysalis - shoo it out of the house? invest in a supply of oversized nets? - but I'm now sort of glad the rest of the monarchs are cooped up.