Getting large now, actually. I expect three of them to slink off to pupate any day now, with the rest not far behind. It always amazes me how much they can eat – and how much of the milkweed itself they can eat, all the way back to fairly thick main stems. Incidentally taking out any flowers or seedpods in the process.
Which leads me to wonder if part of the monarch population problem is one of scale. Sure, a couple milkweed plants can get razed back to bare stems by hungry caterpillars and survive – but they won’t produce seeds. So for the long-term survival of monarchs, you don’t just need enough milkweed to feed caterpillars. You need enough that they can’t eat all of it.
This could be tricky. Every time we’ve had milkweed planted, at least one butterfly has found it – and just one will lay more than enough eggs to munch the whole plant. So you need more milkweed than can readily grow in a few pots… or you need some wasp nests nearby to munch enough of the caterpillars that the survivors leave a few flowers to become seedpods. Which might seem to contradict the goal of “more monarch butterflies” – but if the milkweed can’t survive and spread, then in the long term there will be fewer monarchs.
You have to look at available resources, and how they can be best managed for your ultimate goals. Sure, you can hope to have a really good year… but hope is not a plan.
It’s still February, we could still have a freeze. We’ll see what happens.