Little cats and big wings – fall is coming

It’s that time of year.

The days are still warm and the nights still humid. The summer-blooming flowers are beginning to release their seeds. The hummingbirds are becoming more aggressive and frantic in their pre-migration feeding frenzies. The sun rises a little later and sets a little earlier each day. Hurricanes are tracking their way across the Atlantic and into the Gulf. Autumn equinox is still a month away, but there are hints of fall everywhere.

The goldenrod is in glorious bloom.

The pumpkins and butternuts are getting plump on the vines.

The ironweed is almost five feet tall. The poison ivy leaves are beginning to turn yellow. The spiders and their webs are getting bigger and bigger!

And, every single day a new species of caterpillar shows up on a leaf somewhere in the yarden.

Yesterday afternoon I sat down on a bucket, pencil in hand, to sketch a milkweed flower. As my eye traced the flower to its stalk, there was a surprise. A tiny monarch butterfly caterpillar. It shouldn’t have been a surprise since we saw our first monarch butterfly of the season nectaring on these flowers and the butterflyweed just a few days ago. But this caterpillar was so tiny I would never have seen it without looking very closely.

Little monarch caterpillar (less than 1/2 inch long)

This morning I went back to see if it was still there, and found it just as it had molted. The old skin still clinging to the plant leaf. I don’t know which molt this was, but it goes through five instars or stages as a caterpillar (within 10 to 14 days) before it pupates.

Monarch caterpillar after a molt (with shed skin)

I hope we have enough milkweed to feed this little one and help him on his way to becoming the beautiful adult it will be – like the one that came before him…

First monarch butterfly to appear in our gardens at Pokeberry Pines.

This week we also found caterpillars of the morning glory (or false unicorn) moth munching on our newly planted redbud tree (we switched them to elm and they’re happy):

Morning glory prominent moth caterpillar

And another cat on the newly planted Carolina allspice…

Possible yellow striped armyworm moth caterpillar (ID not confirmed)

There are many more, for sure, most of which will probably grow up in our shared habitat unnoticed by us (unlike the mosquitoes that leave their marks on our skin and in our blood every single day!). But there presence is welcome and adds to the diversity and success of this little place we call home.


  1. Thanks for sharing the beautiful photos. Such diversity and so cool you have a monarch. Yesterday we saw our first cloudless sulphur fly across the yard, heading south. In Alabama that was a sign of approaching autumn.

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