07.15.2017 My Holy Grail of Larvae

I think most everyone is aware of the decreasing Monarch Butterfly population.  As far as their caterpillars are concerned, I saw nary a one for the last three or so years and maybe one or two adults total during that time.  So when a Facebook friend posted a shot of a four acre meadow in the Fanny Stebbins Wildlife Refuge (part of the Silvio Conte National Wildlife Refuge that stretches along much of the Connecticut River) in Longmeadow, MA, filled with milkweed, I headed down there the next day, Monday, July 10, in hopes of finding a caterpillar amongst all those plants.  It was quite wet after a rain and I got soaked to the skin up to my hips and after looking at a few hundred milkweed plants, I decided it was a no show.  Just as I turned to leave….BINGO!!!!  And just about at eye level although I was so wet that being on my knees would not have got me any wetter.  I was quite chuffed, as some of my British friends would say. From here I decided to go for an environmental look since I had the 15mm macro with me.Unfortunately we were looking into the sun which was pretty bright at this point, but my little 12″ reflector helped brighten the larva. I wanted it even larger so got literally 1 inch away and captured what I was looking for.The effect of using a wide-angle macro so close still gives the impression of some distance so you’ll have to take my word for it.  I left a very happy boy. On the way home I thought “Wouldn’t it be funny to get home and find one on my own milkweed?” I looked but didn’t see any.  Still overjoyed.

Later that evening I did my daily search on the plants out front of the house and…As you can tell from the size of the leaf veins, this guy is tiny…maybe an inch long tops.  That crumb on the lower right is evidence that he’s been chowing well.  I looked again the next morning and…This is the last I have seen of him or her.  I am hoping that the caterpillar dropped down to molt between instars and just hasn’t been where I could find it.  They are pretty toxic to birds etc but anything is possible.  I hope he or she survives somewhere.  As for catching some glimpses…chuffed.  🙂


About Steve Gingold

I am a Nature Photographer with interests in all things related. Water, flowers, insects and fungi are my main interests but I am happy to photograph wildlife and landscapes and all other of Nature's subjects.
This entry was posted in Butterflies, Closeup Photography, ecology, Insect Behavior, Insects, Nature Photography, Western Massachusetts and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

21 Responses to 07.15.2017 My Holy Grail of Larvae

  1. neihtn2012 says:

    Very nice shots! I planted milkweed in our backyard, and saw several Monarch caterpillars two years ago. Last year didn’t see any. Hoping this year would bring some.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Steve these are really nice shots of the cat. You’re lucky to have seen those and to have one in your yard. If you see a lone one again you could drape some fine nylon, the kind that is used for dress making. It would protect the cat but you’ d need to make a tent sort of the thing so that it can move around. Some birds eat them, I think but other insects can harm them and lizards and frogs go after the caterpillars. I’ve had two hatch in the Fall -hosted on Mexican milkweed but that was 2014 or 2015. I saw a scant few monarchs last Fall. I never have any stop in the Spring. They begin coming South about 3rd week of August at least that was so when there were plenty of monarchs. It is always exciting to see them in the Fall. I take lots of photos and can’t seem to stop. They are so beautiful. They and the queens love my frostweed.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I hadn’t given much thought to making a tent although I did that for some black swallowtails two years ago. I think you may be on the stepping stone path and may see the first generation of spring migrants, Yvonne.
      I envy you your frostweed which I think is a different species than what I find here. Do you ever get a frost and see the curlicues?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes we do see the curlicues some years and I have yet take a photo of the beauty.

        I wonder if frostweed would grow in your area. I can send you some seed if you like. I don’t know the hardiness zones for it but it sure does self sow and it is a perennial.

        I am in the migration path but I don’t have any native milkweed that attracts them. I have seen one lone monarch about 3-4 years ago, coming through and it was hell bent to find a mate and a host plant. It fluttered in and out of my sight in a New York minute.


  3. Gallivanta says:

    I am chuffed too. What great finds.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Jim R says:

    Congrats. Cigars for all.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I’ve been checking the milkweeds but haven’t seen any, glad to see these guys. What a jazzy, festive-looking creature, and excellent shots.

    Liked by 1 person

    • There is still time. The first ever monarch caterpillar I saw was in Wells, NY (near the Sacandaga Reservoir although I think it is now called a lake) in early August many years ago. Their coloration is lovely as are quite a few other butterfly and moth larvae.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. You can chalk up a double “Bingo!” Not only did you find your monarch caterpillars, but Google believes you’re the only person in the history of the universe to write the phrase “My Holy Grail of Larvae.”

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Todd Henson says:

    That’s great to see, Steve, and I’m glad you had the chance to photograph them. I like the combo of closeup and environmental portraits. I see monarch butterfly from time to time here, though not many and none so far this year, but I’ve yet to see a caterpillar.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The main reason I purchased the Venus Laowa 15mm macro was just for this sort of image, Todd. Although my initial intent was flowers in their environment, getting a nice closeup like these was also on my mind. Maybe I’ll get some more chances here at home as my plants got a nice visit from a Monarch this morning. Now to wait and see if it was a female and whether she laid some eggs.
      There is still time for you to see some.


  8. Harold's says:

    I am in the migration path but I don’t have any native milkweed that attracts them. I see monarch butterfly from time to time here, though not many and none so far this year, but I’ve yet to see a caterpillar.


  9. shoreacres says:

    You might want to check under any wooden arms on lawn chairs — I know three people (two in Texas, one in Cali) who’ve found from one to six (!!) chrysalises under chair arms. I’ve never found a single monarch caterpillar — nor any queens or viceroys — but I keep looking. Lucky you, to finally have found yours. I remember how thrilled I was the first time I found white prickly poppies — I suspect your experience was much the same.

    Which milkweed do you grow? I didn’t know until this year that there are over thirty milkweed species here in Texas. Last weekend, I found fields and ditches at the Brazoria wildlife preserve covered with whorled milkweed (Asclepias verticillata). I’ve never seen so much at one time, in every stage of development. I didn’t see a single butterfly feeding there, but by the time I arrived, it had been pouring rain, so any self-respecting butterfly probably was huddled up somewhere.


  10. bluebrightly says:

    I really enjoyed this. Good for you for making all that effort – 100 plants, yikes! I’ve searched, too, most anytime I would see milkweed (A. syriaca) I would search…A few times I even saw those tiny eggs under a leaf…I’ve loved these caterpillars and butterflies for so long. Believe it or not, my favorite Monarch butterfly sightings were over Fifth Avenue in Manhattan – I used to regularly see them flying south in September (with the traffic!). I think that was in the 80’s and 90’s. Slowly they disappeared, but before they started to get scarce I would bring one home now and then, along with plenty of milkweed leaves. It was fun to watch the whole process, though I was always shocked by the first stages of pupating, because they tend to look sick (esp. after you’ve seen them eating so heartily).
    The photos are beautiful, and it’s interesting to read about the challenges, and the 15mm macro – I didn’t even know there was such a lens. I like the way it brings the environment into the picture but can see the limitations. Love the way the second photo shows the context so thoroughly.


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