Monday, July 29, 2019

My Quest to Save Monarch Butterflies, Part 12

I have to be really careful when I unzip my mesh enclosures. See how that "cat" is right next to one of the zipper pulls? It is very easy to overlook when I am cleaning. Now, I always check the zipper before I open the enclosure. I learned the hard way last summer. That was my first fatality. I was trying so hard to raise them properly. I felt so bad. 

My Quest to Save Monarch Butterflies, Part 11

This caterpillar has shed its outer layer.  Its shriveled skin trails temporarily behind it. During its growth, it will shed its skin 5 times.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

My Quest to Save Monarch Butterflies, Part 10

(The photos are clearer if you touch them and they enlarge).

I kept a lot of records last summer. I was so interested in everything I was observing, I just had to. 😊

The first list above is release dates of my monarch butterflies. I enjoyed naming them and was able to follow the growth of each caterpillar. I had several mesh enclosures so I was able to identify caterpillars with small name tags on the floor of their safe space.

The other lists indicate each caterpillar's history. I marked down if I adopted it as an egg or caterpillar. I kept track of growth and developmental stages including j hanging, chrysalis formation and the fun day when they emerged from their chrysalides and flew off.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Saturday, July 20, 2019

My Quest to Save Monarch Butterflies, Part 8

A mature caterpillar is 1 3/4 inches long. The pictures above show what happens next. It all occurs in 24 hours.

(I've been having a hard time posting photos and then adding captions, thus, I'm cutting corners. Maybe I'll have better luck with Part 9).

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

My Quest to Save Monarch Butterflies, Part 7

When two caterpillars cross paths, I've seen them swing their upper bodies at each other and antagonize each other for a few seconds before going their own ways. I was startled the first time I witnessed it. I learned quickly that they don't harm each other; it's all for show. Ha!!
Caterpillars can exhibit strange behavior, for instance, this one is rearing back and waving its front section to the left and right. Aerobics?
 This photo was taken through a glass jar causing some blurriness. 
I often had several caterpillars in the same enclosure.  I have 3 enclosures so I kept "cats" of similar size together. Most of the time they coexisted with little friction.

After shedding, the remnants make a hearty meal.
Another caterpillar is growing too big for its britches. 
When I notice a caterpillar has wandered away from the milkweed I have provided for it, that's a good sign that it is going to shed.
Notice the size of this milkweed leaf. It is from Jared's plants, a different kind with much larger leaves than mine.

I plan to go into detail with photos and narrative describing the initial stages of transformation from caterpillar to chrysalis form in my next blog post.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

My Quest To Save Monarch Butterflies, Part 6

The stripes are becoming visible on this very young caterpillar but the colors aren't distinct yet.

Spunky is a day older and thus his stripes stand out clearly.

Yellow, black and white hues have Hitch Hiker looking cute as can be. He got his name by getting a ride as an egg to the screenporch on a leaf I intended to feed bigger caterpillars. Thankfully, I noticed the egg and secluded it.
Wouldn't it be glorious to be nestled among these beautiful buds?

I bet that bud is tender and sweet.

Caterpillars go through 5 growing stages called instars. They outgrow and shed their face caps and skin when they advance to the next stage. This "cat" is about to lose its face cap.

In my next post, I'll share photos of more caterpillars as they mature.

My Quest To Save Monarch Butterflies, Part 5

After leaving its egg and wandering for a bit,  a newborn caterpillar returns to the egg and consumes it, gaining valuable nutrients in its first meal.

This "cat" has learned that milkweed leaves are good food too.

They are extremely small at first. Do you see it at the lower right? Yes, I named my "pets" to help me keep track of them and for the fun of it.

...empty egg and newly hatched "butterfly to be" baby...

Do you see the tiny black dot to the left of the leaf? That's the head of this newborn. The body is barely visible against the white paper towel.  I kept busy returning wandering babies to their milkweed leaves.

The regular size paperclip proves how tiny this baby is.

My next post will show you the growing caterpillars as they progress through maturing stages.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

My Quest to Save Monarch Butterflies, Part 4

After much editing of my original video, I finally have this short version to share with you.

This tiny caterpillar, only 1/8th inch long, has just emerged from its shell. It is nearly colorless and transparent as it explores its new environment. The black, white and yellow stripes will appear as it matures.

In my next post, I'm looking forward to sharing photos of the next few minutes of this caterpillar's journey.

My Quest to Save Monarch Butterflies, Part 3

A monarch butterfly laid this egg on the underside of a milkweed leaf.  I adopted it and placed it in a covered container. Several times a day, I would check on it.

Notice the ribbing on the egg shell. The ribs develop as the egg matures. (They wouldn't be visible without the zoom feature on my camera).

This egg will soon hatch. The dark spot is the head of the caterpillar.  An egg matures and hatches 3 to 6 days after it is laid. 

After raising several caterpillars and releasing them as butterflies, my next challenge was to look for eggs on the underside of the milkweed leaves and to attempt to nurture them to their intended destiny.  I'd read everything I could find on raising monarchs so I knew what I was looking for.

As the weather warms, monarch butterflies from Mexico and southern states make their way north. They are constantly in search of milkweed plants to lay their eggs on.  The population of monarchs is declining because milkweed has become scarce.  It has been removed from roadsides and many homeowners think of it as simply a weed and get rid of it.

A butterfly will flit from leaf to leaf, depositing one egg at a time. It didn't take me long to locate the tiny white eggs I was looking for. Fortunately, the white color is fairly easy to spot against the green of the milkweed leaves. Unfortunately, locating the eggs on the underside of the leaves is challenging as it involves a lot of stooping and neck twisting.

Initially, I picked a leaf with its egg from a plant and brought it to the screen porch.  I put the leaf and egg in a covered container on a piece of paper towel. I checked frequently on the egg. I didn't know how mature it was so I wasn't sure when it would hatch. It takes 3 to 6 days for an egg to mature and the tiny caterpillar to emerge.

In my next post, I will show you a newly emerged caterpillar. They are so cute and consequently, so vulnerable.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

My Quest to Save Monarch Butterflies, Part 2

I found my first caterpillar on July 7th, 2018. After relocating it from the milkweed plant it was feeding on to the safety of a mason jar on our screenporch, I brought it fresh milkweed frequently and cleaned the jar just as frequently. My "cat" was an eating machine and since what goes in, must come out, the jar regularly needed emptying.

4 days later, I found my "cat" hanging up-side-down from a white fuzzy button on its milkweed sprig. It was hanging in a distinct J shape.

The next day, a pale green chrysalis was hanging where the caterpillar had been.

After 10 to 14 days, the outer layer of the chrysalis became transparent and I could see the compacted wings of a monarch butterfly inside.

I ordered a mesh enclosure and placed the chrysalis inside. I wanted to be certain there was room for the butterfly to move around after it emerged from the chrysalis.  I didn't witness the emergence of my first butterfly but was thrilled to find it moving its wings as it hung at the bottom of the empty chrysalis.

That's it in a nutshell. I found myself under the spell brought on by witnessing this magical transformation.

I spent the rest of the summer gathering caterpillars and even the eggs they hatch from on my milkweed plants.

In further posts, I will go into greater detail about my experiences and I'll share some of the hundreds of photos I took.