The Monarchy in miniature

Monarchs are circling around my milkweed in Maine at the moment:

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Her mission is not find nectar, but to lay eggs. She finds a small young tender milkweed. and grabs the edge of a leaf, curling her abdomen underneath:

Monarch laying egg

If you keep your eye on that particular leaf, and turn it over after she has gone, there is a single tiny white dot, 1mm across, about the size of a pinhead. It is her egg:

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I became mesmerized by the intricate geometry of these minuscule beads: it took somewhere around 40 photos to get these shots.

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After about 4 days, the caterpillar emerges. This next photo is taken one day after the photo of the egg:

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They are very tiny at first, about 2mm, but they eat continuously: this one is already munching away. They shed their skins four times, and after each shedding emerge bigger and fatter. Each of the five stages is called an instar. The one below hatched about 10 days ago,  probably a fourth instar, and it’s pretty hefty: use the central spine of the leaf as a gauge of the relative size of the newborn above and this heffalump below:

Monarch butterfly caterpillar on milkweed

Monarch caterpillars feed only on milkweed, Asclepius syraica, so I encourage the milkweed on my land, and its sensuous perfume wafts around the edge of my meadow at this time of year. The flowerheads are elegant:

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And in closeup they have a lascivious whiff of Georgia O’Keefe:

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Here is one of her flower paintings:

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Thanks to the Art Gallery of Ontario for this image.

8 thoughts on “The Monarchy in miniature”

    1. They are not, unless I enrich and add soil then they keep going which is done. I have some free time this summer and have literally been spending hours outside doing all garden activities that have been on hold for years because of work, school, life. Ah, getting older is so wonderful . . .

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  1. Wonderful post as usual. New word to me – the poetic ‘instar’. In UK about to have millions of painted lady butterflies arrive. Every 10 years or so, a huge influx – 2008 last mass arrival of 11 million. They fly at 30 miles an hour and feed on thistles.

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