The summer is getting away from us. Labor Day has passed and students are back in their classrooms. Fall in elementary classrooms frequently has teachers playing host to monarch caterpillars that students bring in. Once they metamorphose into adult butterflies, the students delight in releasing them so they can begin their long migration. I have written about the monarchs before and much has been written lately about the decline in monarch butterfly populations. Some reports attribute the decline to loss of milkweed plants in cropland due to herbicides sprayed on crops. Other studies have found however, an increase in milkweed plants in natural areas, such as Lac Lawrann may seem to balance that loss. I’ve noticed this as well in my own small prairie plantings. But still very few monarchs have been around this summer. We’ll have to see what another month brings and I’ll update my observations on the monarchs at that time. Here are a couple of links to monitoring projects that have more information:
Monarch Larva Monitoring Project; U of Minnesota
UWM Field Station Monitoring
What I do want to talk about is another milkweed plant cohabitant and that is the large milkweed bug. The large milkweed bug, (Oncopeltus fasciatus) is doing well from what I have observed. Though this orange and black bug bears a resemblance to those pesky fall box elder bugs, they are nowhere near as offensive. Like monarchs, they too lay their eggs on the common milkweed. Once the eggs hatch, the young feed on the seeds of the milkweed, going through a series of molts on the way to becoming adults. This time of the year, there can be several generations of bugs on the same plant as indicated by the various sizes of juveniles. Once the frost hits, the bugs will also migrate, like the monarchs, though not to a specific location nor as far, just to a warmer place to spend the winter. I’m writing about these, because as a former teacher, we raised these in the classroom, feeding the bugs on plain, shelled sunflower seeds. They make good classroom additions as you only have to add fresh seeds once every couple months and add water every two weeks or so. Second grade students in West Bend will be raising them in their rooms again this year to help them learn about their life cycle.
So as you are looking for monarchs while out walking the trails through our prairies at Lac Lawrann, take a closer look at the milkweed pods for those bright orange and black bugs and be reminded of those 7 year olds looking at the same thing in their classrooms and that these bugs too will soon begin their migration.