Lisa, I have a monarch caterpillar ?

OklaMoniNovember 12, 2012

I am at a friends house in Tulsa. We just found a Monarch Caterpillar on her milkweed. It was 28 overnight. He is moving... and now, we wonder, if we need to bring him indoors? Chris has some milkweed indoors. Should she transfer him????

Please, let us know, what you know.


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Lisa_H OK(7)

Moni, I would bring him inside if you have enough viable milkweed to feed him. I have heard of the pupas living through the winter and emerging in the spring.

I had a teacher friend who just told me this weekend she rescued two black swallowtail caterpillars. However one escaped her cage, so somewhere in the school a blackswallow tail will emerge and surprise someone!

Susan is a far better expert, hopefully she will see this and hop on. If you need a faster answer, Linda or anyone on the Butterfly forum will be happy to help. Susan and the butterfly forum are my go-to sources for most anything butterfly related!


    Bookmark   November 12, 2012 at 12:29PM
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Monarchs, either caterpillars or chrysalises, will not winter over. Any butterfly in the Swallowtail group will overwinter as chrysalises and emerge when food and nectar plants are available.

I wouldn't bring it in, personally. It will eat and grow faster outside on the plant.....if it is meant to survive. It is very late for a Monarch caterpillar. Most females cease laying eggs during migration, but there is always that exception to the rule.

Hope this helps. Kinda sad, I know.


    Bookmark   November 13, 2012 at 7:10AM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

It is sad, but that's the way it goes in the natural world. On Sunday I was looking at the beneficial insects in the garden as I pulled warm season plants, stripped them of their harvestable parts, and tossed the remainder of those plants on the compost pile, and I was wondering what the beneficial insects will do now without those plants and their pests which are the beneficial insects' food supply. It is likely some of the beneficials moved to the cool-season plants, but with these cold nights, I don't know how much longer I'll see many insects, beneficial or not, out and about.

I found a tobacco hornworm on a pepper plant in the garage Sunday night. With a hard freeze looming, we had pulled up the last 20 hot pepper plants from the veggie garden on Sunday afternoon, piled them up in the pickup truck and hauled them into the garage. I went into the garage after dark (after harvesting every other warm season crop in the garden that was still producing) and was stripping all the plants of their fruit. I looked over at the pile of pepper plants I'd already stripped of usable peppers and saw the hornworm there. Tim said "oh well, it is about to die", but I don't necessarily think that's true. I think there's a good chance the hornworm, which was very large, may find its way into the soil in one of the brugmansia containers nearby and may overwinter there. The brugs are in the garage at night and outside during the day.

I still have habaneros on some plants in the garage and need to finish harvesting them today. The garage will keep the peppers above freezing for a while yet, but not for long. It is 22 degrees at our Mesonet station today, but 26 here, and the garage usually stays above freezing until we hit 18 degrees outside. If I see that tobacco hornworm on a plant in there today, I'll likely move it to the brugs or maybe put it on a tomato plant in the greenhouse.


    Bookmark   November 13, 2012 at 8:18AM
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Lisa_H OK(7)

Moni, well, see, Susan is a better source than I am :)! Thanks Susan (and Dawn) for stepping in. I didn't know that some species would live over and some wouldn't.


    Bookmark   November 13, 2012 at 2:39PM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

Lisa, Occasionally when I am digging in the garden in late fall through early spring, I find a hornworm pupa in the soil. I also find smaller but similar looking pupa which look fairly similar but must belong to something else.

The big hornworm that was on the pepper plant in the garage Sunday is still there today, but his pepper plant was just lying on a table, and the brugmansia was 6 or 8 feet away, so I broke off the branch the cat was on and put it in the large pot with the brug. Then I carried the rest of the pepper plants to the compost pile except for a couple of habaneros covered in full-sized but green peppers. Hopefully the cat will borrow into the soil the brugmansia is growing in whenever it is ready.

It is really big so I feel like it is a 5th instar and should be about ready to 'go'.

I don't know which butterflies or moths overwinter as pupa in our climate and which ones don't, but it is easy to assume that if they migrate like the monarchs do, then that's a sign they cannot overwinter here. : )

Sometimes I'll find various chrysalis cases attached to things outside in the winter, and I leave them alone. I assume they are tough enough to overwinter wherever they happen to be. (Or, maybe not....)

For anyone new to tobacco or tomato hornworms, or any of their relatives (we also have the ones on our property that feed on cherry trees, trumpet creepers and Virginia creeper), I've linked a photo of a tomato hornworm pupa. I never see them in the earlier stages. By the time I dig one up, it is the really dark color as shown in this photo.


Here is a link that might be useful: Hornworm pupa

    Bookmark   November 13, 2012 at 4:11PM
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I'm gonna attach another image of Manduca sexta, or Carolina sphinx moth, which is what is predominantly found in Oklahoma, and anywhere East of the Rockies. We call it "Tomato Hornworm" for ease of recall, but true Tomato Hornworms, or Manduca quinquemaculata, is what dominates the country West of the Rockies. Both are similar in their life cycles, varying in the number of spots the adult moths exhibit, and the "slashes" on the larva itself, e.g., Tomato Hornworm has chevrons, and Carolina has straight slashes. They both consume tomatos, peppers, and other plants in the nightshade family.

The pupa displays a "handle" like that on a jug, which houses the proboscis thru which it "sips" nectar. Some sphinx have this appendage on the pupa, and others do not. It is a rather long tube that, when the moth is at rest, or not nectaring, is kept curled up. The long proboscis allows them access to deep, tubular shaped flowers that other moths and butterflies, or insects, are unable to reach into. This also allows the flowers to be pollinated, so these moths are advantageous in the adult stage, probably not considered so in the larval stage. That's why a lot of us provide alternative plants, or additional tomato plants, to move the larvae found on the plants we are growing for food, to the alternate hosts. The classic, "ya got to give a little, to get a little".

I love watching these moths at dusk as they nectar on my 4 o'clocks, Datura, and Moonflowers. Large, strong fliers that hover over the flowers, diving and sweeping across the garden.

Dawn, just wanted to show a good photo of the "hook/handle" of the pupae. BTW, moths outnumber butterflies by about 16 to 1, so there are thousands more moths in our gardens than there are butterflies.


Here is a link that might be useful: Carolina Sphinx Moth Pupa

    Bookmark   November 14, 2012 at 7:58AM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

Susan, That image does show the hook really well. Thanks for linking it.

I love watching the moths at night as well. This year I think the moths outnumbered the butterflies about a million to one at our house. You couldn't walk out onto the porch at night without having moths flapping all around you when you were near the porch night. I don't have much left for butterflies or moths at this point because anything that had not frozen previously did freeze on Sunday night/Monday morning. I saw a cabbage white out fluttering around the garden yesterday, so I need to check all the cole crops for eggs these next few days.

There's a few nicotianas (N. alata in this case) that were sheltered from frost so didn't freeze, but aren't blooming. There's a few native asters still blooming in pastures because taller grass likely sheltered them from the frost, and some of the Laura Bush petunias still are blooming. They usually don't suffer much winter damage until our low temperatures get down into the teens. That's about it as far as bloomers go. We do have chamomile about to bloom, so that will help some of the little flying critters, and I left henbit in the beds with winter veggies when it sprouted because I wanted for the flying things to have something. Right now, only two small henbit plants are blooming, but many more are almost to the blooming stage. Winter sure is hard on all of the little flying insects. I open up the greenhouse doors once the temperatures are above freezing because a few of the plants in there are blooming too, and they attract a crowd of bees, wasps and other flying critters.

I'm not much of a winter person, so I'm already looking forward to spring and its blooms. We always have a few butterflies and moths out on warm winter days, but how they find enough of anything to sustain life is beyond me. This year the Texas bluebonnets, poppies and larkspur sprouted in late September and early October instead of in the more typical November through February, so if we have a half-decent weather, they may bloom earlier than usual.


    Bookmark   November 14, 2012 at 8:57AM
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I just released another Gulf Fritillary butterfly and saw another one in the garden. Why they aren't moving out of here yet, is beyond me. Also a few Skippers flitting among the Golden Crownbeard, which isn't totally frozen. Still patches of the Dallas Red Lantana blooming and green. Everything else is gone.

I have never had Henbit bloom in the fall. The foliage always grows, and then the plants waits until spring to bloom. Some dandelions are blooming. The Fennel is looking very good. But it is evergreen here. Oh, and the Lady in Red Salvia is blooming again, but only the larger butterflies would benefit from that. I had the most gorgeous, fresh Dogface Sulphur nectaring the other day on what remained of a few Zinnias. Even those are gone now.

Some of the butterflies that winter over, are not nectarers. They are fruit, dung, tree sap, nectarers. That includes the Goatweed Leafwings, Question Marks, Commas. Most of them aestivate during winter and only come out to fly on sunny, warmer days. They're not using up much of their energy supply that way.

It's like the Monarchs in the Fir Forests of Mexico. They are in a state of aestivation, too, but drift to the forest floors to get sip moisture, and get a bit of sun, but they aren't really doing much of anything else that requires energy, like mating, flying any distance, etc. Those forests are quite chilly.

I'm sure the drought had a lot to do with our lepidopteran population. The silk moths do not have mouth parts to consume nectar; they don't feed. Just look gorgeous for a couple of weeks, and then they're gone. Some of the sphinx do not nectar either, so I'm assuming there are others. I couldn't presume to know very much about moths. I generally stick to the sphinx, and looking up a few others I find in the garden. there are so many of them.

I'm attaching an image of the Dogface Sulphur. They are so cool, with that image of a dog's face on the wings.

Here is a link that might be useful: Dogface Sulphur

    Bookmark   November 14, 2012 at 4:52PM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

Until last year, I'd never had henbit bloom in December before, though sometimes it has bloomed in January in a warm winter. February is more typical. Then, this year it bloomed in November. Life around here just keeps getting crazier every year. I feel like in both those years the early emergence and bloom occurred because of the drastic change from extra-hot and extra-dry summer weather to more normal autumn weather. One of my plum trees interpreted the extreme summer heat as dormancy and dropped all its leaves in early August. Then, when rain returned and the temperatures cooled, it started blooming. It wasn't in full bloom, just scattered flowers here and then. It still was blooming when the freezing weather hit last week. The poor plants remain confused by our weather.

I also have chamomile about to bloom, and poppies and larkspur that are getting way too big for autumn. It makes me wonder what the heck is going on with the plants. They are so confused, but if they want to bloom in winter, it is okay with me. I did notice today that the Pink Lemonade honeysuckle has some frost damage on parts of it, but underneath the damaged parts, there's still flowers in bloom.

We always have quite a few butterflies and moths, and lots of bees, in winter. If we hit the 80s, red wasps and yellow jackets suddenly materialize. I often put out fruit for them (and the wildlife leaves plenty of dung around) and also have noticed that the the bees often visit the hen scratch grains scattered on the ground for the chickens, though I am not sure how the bees extract anything from dried grains.

I see sulphurs more than anything else here, year round. We have some of the smaller ones, but mostly the real big ones that are more common in Texas. They were around in late summer but otherwise we didn't see many of them, although we had more sulphurs than swallowtails. We had monarchs in August through October.

We have had 8 or 9 frosty mornings, and several consecutive nights in the mid- to upper-20s, so everything is frozen here. I am surprised I have anything left in bloom at all. The peppers, tomatoes, herbs and flowers in the greenhouse are blooming though, and I leave the doors open all day so there's a steady stream of flying creatures in and out of the greenhouse. I imagine some of them stay in there at night.

I hope next year is a better butterfly year. We had just about the lowest butterfly population I've ever seen, although there were lots of moths.

I wonder if we're going to get to have normal weather in 2013 or if that is too much to expect.

    Bookmark   November 14, 2012 at 6:01PM
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Thank you everyone for your helpful answers. I forwarded all to Chris.

Moni... who is back home

    Bookmark   November 14, 2012 at 6:36PM
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