The Late Bloomer
It was September 24th, all of my caterpillars were safely in their chrysalides, and it was time to clean up my messy patch of milkweed. As I chopped down the yellowing, aphid-infested plants, I was utterly shocked to see a last monarch straggler crawling up one of the stakes.
I’d never seen one so late in the season, but thought it might be running just a day or two behind the others. Instead, that hungry little caterpillar ate every scrap of milkweed I could find for an entire week, and formed a “J” on the last day of September
On October 1st, it successfully formed a chrysalis, and I could finally discover that “it” was a “she”.
I released two other female butterflies on Thanksgiving Sunday, and one male on Thanksgiving Monday…and waited for this little one to do its magic. It normally takes 10-12 days for the butterfly to emerge.
Glorious weather the following weekend came and went. The chrysalis finally turned translucent and I could see the butterfly within, but I began to think she had died after all this time. The two sunniest days of all, Oct 18 & 19, also came and went, and still she wasn’t ready.
Late in the day on Wednesday, October 20 she emerged, perfect in every way. I picked some flowers and put some honey water in a small dish in the cage. Butterflies don’t typically need to eat for 24 hours after emerging, however they are also not typically stuck in a chrysalis for 19 days!
But now what? It was getting down to ten degrees or even colder overnight, and she had too far to go to just set her free in frigid Toronto. I thought if I could give her a head start on her trip south, then it might be the equivalent of her hatching a few days earlier.
On Thursday, which was supposed to be a mix of sun and cloud, I packed up my delicate passenger and hit the road.
It’s not crazy unless I put the seatbelt across her, right? (don’t think it didn’t cross my mind)
It started raining as I drove onto the Gardiner. It was pouring by the time I hit the QEW. In Brantford it began to look like the apocalypse, and I realized there was no choice but to turn back home.
I called the Butterfly Conservatory in Niagara to see whether they might accept a “donation”, but the sympathetic man who answered the phone said they couldn’t risk introducing any outside diseases into their delicate population.
She is the special generation designed to live for 8 months and make the 4,500 km migration to Mexico, but as I checked the weather forecast all along the route, I had to accept there was no way she could make it now. If it weren’t Covid – and if I weren’t afraid of the merciless teasing – I may have taken a road trip to Nashville or someplace similar.
Instead, I hatched a plan to take her to the only place I could think of that could provide reliably warm temperatures and plenty of food sources for the coming months.
I’m not going to mention *which* greenhouse I snuck into with my accomplice Rachel, who kindly kept an eye out for security in case I had to toss and run, but some of you may recognize it.
Let’s just keep it between us, ok?