I was out in the garden checking on the progress of Asclepias purpurascens (purple milkweed), which is just about to start blooming, when I noticed something under the rosy buds (top image). A closer inspection revealed this little fellow.
|This caterpillar is less than an inch long.|
Monarch butterflies lay their eggs only on milkweed (Asclepias species). The foliage of milkweeds provides what these insects need to grow into toxic butterflies. These toxins protect the species from predators, as the predators quickly learn that butterflies with the distinctive monarch markings mean poison, and not good eating. This butterfly can't exist without the milkweed, and the milkweed can't exist without a place to grow. With the destruction of the prairies, it's up to gardeners to provide a home for the milkweeds, and in turn, the butterflies. It's a quiet little drama, but no less important because of that.
Had I been in a hurry and merely glanced at the Asclepias, I would have missed out. I'll keep monitoring this caterpillar, hoping to see it form a chrysalis. Maybe I can even get a shot of it.
Slow down, looker closer; you never know what you might find.