Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Baby, It's Cold Outside

Not to complain, but it's awfully cold here for Florida, even in late December. (Well, OK, I am complaining. But so is everyone else I talk to.) Since November, it seems we've just had one cold front after another here in Tampa. Temps will make it into the 70s for a few days, and then a cold front comes through and plunges us back to daytime highs in the 50s with nights in the 40s (or less!). This weather pattern is much more typical of January and February, so I'm finding myself a little worried about what the winter ahead might bring. Today we topped out around 55 in the midafternoon, and the cool wind made it feel much colder.

(An amusing side note for anyone raised in the North - we had a wind chill warning last night. Down here, a wind chill warning is issued when the wind chill will be below 35 for at least 3 hours. Be sure to notice that's "below 35", not "35 below" like it is up North!)

However, I will say that if you can get out of the wind and stand in the sun for a few moments, the sunshine is reassuringly warm. That must be why these monarch caterpillars are still surviving, and even thriving, in My Florida Backyard.
We haven't seen any butterflies in a few days - it's just too chilly for them to fly. However, these caterpillars have been doing their best to decimate what's left of my milkweed and are progressing well, if slowly. There are three of them eagerly defoliating the plant above, and I've seen at least two others of similar size scattered on other plants around the garden.

If you've read anything about monarchs, you might be thinking, "I thought Monarchs migrated to Mexico for the winter?" That's true, but in Central and South Florida, some of our monarchs stick it out through the winter, because our temperatures generally remain warm enough during the day for them to survive. When the temps are too low, the caterpillars enter diapause, a state of suspended animation (the same biological occurrence that causes iguanas to fall out of the trees during cold snaps in Miami).

When living up north, I used to think that hibernation would have been the best way to make it through a northern winter. I'm starting to think that diapause would be great for these chilly days in a Florida winter, when our thin skins and thinner blood keep us shivering in 50 degree weather. We could just choose to stay in bed for a day or two, warm and cozy, until the temperature returns to a more reasonable 75, when we could resume our daily lives. Sound good to anyone else?

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