Caterpillar – palooza on the Llano River: No Monarch butterflies, but caterpillars galore

I was worried that the only Monarchs that I’ll be tagging this year will be ones I raise myself.  Until this guy showed up:

FOS Wild Monarch tagged
First of season wild Monarch tagged on the Llano River. October 2013. Photo by Monika Maeckle
What a beauty.
The perfect male, SLM027, appeared to be recently hatched.   That wouldn’t surprise me since the Llano River this weekend was ripe with Monarch caterpillars, while flying Monarchs were almost completely absent.
Monarch butterfly caterpillars on the LLano River
Caterpillar – palooza on the Llano River. Plenty of caterpillars, but few Monarch butterflies this weekend. Photo by Monika Maeckle
The freshly minted specimen above was one of only two Monarchs seen all weekend, and is only the third Monarch butterfly I’ve tagged this year.   That puts me way behind my usual activity, which by now should number in the dozens.  The other two were reared at home. You’ve all heard how this is likely to be the worst year in history for Monarchs.  So I won’t belabor it again.
My friend and fellow butterfly fan Jenny Singleton, who first introduced me to butterflies, shared the hope that a cold front hitting the Llano River this weekend would push down some major pulses from up North and we’d have the usual clusters roosting in our pecan trees.  But as is often the case, Jenny and I were ahead of our time.   Migrating Monarchs had not quite arrived.
Jenny was at her place in Hext, about 40 miles from me and said she didn’t see any, either.  We’re both betting on next weekend.  Monarch Watch predicts the peak migration for our latitude to hit between October 10 and the 22nd.  And judging from reports we’re getting early this week, Monarchs are on the move.
Spangled Fritillary
Spangled Fritillary nectaring on Frostweed. Llano River, Texas Hill Country
Plenty of other butterflies were flying whenever the North wind gales paused to catch their breath.   The dramatic temperature drop and wind gusts appeared to make many insects seek the comfort of the opposite sex, as these pictures of mating Queens and grasshoppers (we call them Jumbos) attest.
Queen butterflies doing it
Queen butterflies snuggle up as a cold front hits the Llano River this weekend. Photo by Monika Maeckle
Grasshoppers doing it
Get a room!  Grasshoppers find companionship on the Llano River, Texas Hill Country. Photo by Monika Maeckle
Eastern Swallowtail
Eastern Swallowtail, recently hatched, resting in the grass. Llano River, Texas Hill Country. Photo by Monika Maeckle
The good news is that the Llano River is up substantially from a dreary low flow.   A two-and-a-half inch rain about two weeks ago lifted the waters four feet and scrubbed much of the muck and dredge from its karst bottom.  Plenty of Swamp milkweed, Frostweed, Cowpen daisy, Goldenrod and Purple mistflower await hungry travelers when they finally arrive.   A fresh hatch of Gulf Fritillaries, Eastern Swallowtails and Queens lighted on the nectar feast Saturday afternoon.
Llano River, October 2013
Llano River recovered nicely from a long, hot summer. Three inches of rain raised the river at least a foot.   Photo by Monika Maeckle
Interestingly, I found more than 20 Monarch caterpillars in various stages on the milkweed this weekend.  I have never retrieved so many caterpillars at once, so late in the season.   Not sure what that is about, except that perhaps the migration will be a bit late this year.  Upon returning home, my Tropical milkweed was filled with Monarch butterfly eggs.

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12 Responses

  1. gretchen
    | Reply

    In San Antonio – I have milkweed but no caterpillars so far. I will be happy to foster any monarch cats.

    • Diane
      | Reply

      Thanks for the offer, Gretchen.
      I just moved back to Austin from SA in Aug ’12 and had raised MANY over the years in my K classroom in both cities & AND in anybody else’s room who would take them after I retired & subbed/tutored. It was so sad to have zero last fall and when I’d hauled 10 big pots of milkweed from SA to A and for the first time ever managed to keep them alive over the winter to thrive early in the spring…but, NO SPRING MONARCHS in the yard either! 🙁 Did find a few along the roadside and placed them in 4 classrooms where I subbed.
      But, over the summer, we spied a female nectaring and laying eggs on July 2 in the back yard. HURRAY, they had at last FOUND me again!
      I’m going to try to locate some milkweed tomorrow at several nurseries here in A; if I have no luck, I may let you take them rather than have them starve out. Please be sure and check back with me on the success, or NOT, of that Wed afternoon search. Thank you.

      • Ken
        | Reply

        Barton Springs Nursery, on Bee Caves Rd. in Westlake, has
        milkweed as of 10-10-13.

        • Diane
          | Reply

          Also mentioned The Great Outdoors, but I had an appt on Bee Cave so Barton Springs was quick & easy.
          I recently mived back to A after being in SA for 22 yrs. Things have changed A lit and am having to learn about a lit of new-to-me places around town. Thanks for sharing the info.

    • Diane
      | Reply

      Hi, Gretchen. I saw four adult monnarchs as I drove around Austin today, so hopefully you’ll have some heading your way soon!!! I DID buy several pots of chemical-free milkweed today in S Austin, so here’s hoping there will be enough to feed ALL these hungry critters, at least if no more eggs hatch any time soon. Some of the Queens are already hanging and the Monarchs are fast passing the up in size.
      Thanks so much for the offer to help feed the ravenous hoard, but I think I now have enough to do it. I don’t know whether to hope for more to pass my way or not…but of courrse I do!!! Mhope for just a little time to let the milkweed grow back some. I know it grows quickly, but not THAT FAST…with peak migration week just coming up. Pretty great birthday present Mother Nature sends me each year, huh!?!
      Thanks again & GOOD LUCK having your own Monarch nursery soon!! Please let me know how it turns out!

  2. Robert
    | Reply

    I had two Monarchs in my garden last week here in Colorado Springs and they hung around till a cold front sent them south.

    • Monika Maeckle
      | Reply

      Send ’em our way! –MM

  3. Diane
    | Reply

    Saw 2 monarchs at Marble Falls over the weekend. Came home to check on the Queen cats & ?eggs? all over my potted tropical milkweed in Austin. Found 16-17 Queen cats of varying sizes w/1Q chrysalis and finally spotted 4 Monarch cats, all about the same size. Problem: after the Monarchs I’ve already watched grow, pupate and released 1-2 weeks ago, this latest big bunch of M&Q cats has completely decimated my plants! Almost all stems are bare! There’s only a little left, so I’m at a loss as to how to feed these ~20 cats!?!? Anybody have “spare” milkweed or know of a source near Austin??? It will be SO SAD if they don’t make it due to shortage of food! 🙁

    • Monika Maeckle
      | Reply

      Diane, it sounds like you have a milkweed emergency. HOpefully you can scout some down. Read this first, though: When I lived in Austin, I always counted on Barton Springs Nursery or Great Outdoors on South Congress for chemical free milkweed, late in the season. Give them a ring and see if they have any. Good luck! –MM

      • Diane
        | Reply

        Thank you VERY MUCH, Monica. I live in N Austin, but just so happens I have an appt out on Bee Caves Rd tomorrow morning, sooooo, a hunting I will go!! Here’s HOPING itproves tobe a very SUCCESSFUL HUNT!

        • Monika Maeckle
          | Reply

          You’re welcome. Be sure to read that post. If there’s no aphids on the milkweed, it’s probably been sprayed. Ask. So sad to have them all die after eating sprayed host plant. Good luck!

      • Diane
        | Reply

        Thanks, Monica, for the milkweed tip! Bought several pots from Barton Springs Nursery, just 5 blocks away from my appt this morning!! Beautiful place & lovely, helpful folks! Voracious cats chowed down in a hurry when presented with fresh victuals. Hope it holds them over and maybe tolls in some more. I’d gladly go purchase more plants to feed more cats!! Saw 4 adults as I was driving around A today, so maybe some more will be heading your way soon in SA.
        Thanks again!
        HAPPY BIRTHDAY! Mine is next Tues. Isn’t it great of Mother Nature to send these beautiful creations our way for our b’days!! THANK YOU, THANK YOU!!

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