In the last three days we've had seven monarchs emerge from their chrysalis. Our last two will likely emerge tomorrow.
You can see our make-shift monarch holding box above. Most of the jars that held the caterpillars were covered with the mesh and even when we put a likely looking stick in for them to attach to, they preferred to get as high as they could and attach to the mesh. But we didn't think there was adequate room for them to emerge in the jars, so we made do with lathe and duct tape. Above you can see the three monarchs that emerged yesterday, plus some of the empty cases from the day before, and the two pupa that are still green. And plenty of duct tape.
After hanging and strengthening her wings, this female made her way to the top side of the lathe and is pumping her wings, getting ready to take off for the bushes across the yard. She doesn't know the porch screen will thwart this goal.
But with a little help from a friend, she gets a ride outside and after resting with the sun on her wings for a few moments, she takes off on a wavering flight across the yard to the far bushes.
Above is a male (you can tell by the spots on the lower wings), resting on the alyssum that borders my herb bed. He soon moved to the curly allium pictured below and hid there for a time.
The second male took off across the yard and then circled back, enjoying the sunshine on the hummingbird feeder.
Bon voyage, butterflies!
This yellow flower is now starting to bloom in the prairie plantings near the railroad tracks. I don't know what it is, but I was enjoying the mix of yellow with a touch of pink on the buds. Then I found a bloom with a couple of pink petals -- or so I thought until I looked at it more closely.
On another recent morning, our third monarch had emerged from the chrysalis by the time I checked on them. When its wings were ready, it made its first flight to a nearby houseplant, and I was able to carry it outside the screened-in porch with ease. A few minutes with wings full spread in the sunlight, and it took another brief flight and perched on the screen, slowly pumping its wings. The last set of photos is a slideshow of four photos -- if you get this blog by email, you'll need to go to the website to see the butterfly slowly building his wing strength (the spots on the lower set of wings mark it as male).
Sunday morning I could tell we had a monarch that was about to emerge. Instead of a jade pupa, I could see the black and orange pattern on the wings through the clear case. But there was no sign of anything happening yet, so I went off with my camera in search of other sights.
When I came back, camera in hand, I naturally checked to see how the butterfly was doing. The case was just splitting open, and in the next 90 seconds, the butterfly made its way out and hung on to the old case. For a few minutes, it looked like a pregnant lady in a short cloak. Gradually the wings extended to their full length. I watched for a half hour or so while the butterfly rested, got its mouth in working order and slightly opened its wings every so often.
It wasn't quite ready to fly by the time I needed to leave for church, so I put the container and butterfly out on the lawn. By the time we were home again, it was gone. Maybe we'll finally see one in flight in about ten days, when the eleven others are due to emerge.
(If you're interested in a really thorough description of this whole process -- and a tip on how to tell which gender the butterfly is while it is still in the chrysalis -- check monarchchaser.wordpress.com.)
Nearly ready to fly. The reddish drop at the bottom is meconium, the waste material from its time in chrysalis. I didn't know about identifying the gender in the pupa, and I didn't get to see this one with its wings fully extended, but I think that it may have the tell-tale spot on the wing that indicates a male. Either that, or there's a bit of smudge just there!
Somehow we managed to end up with a baker's dozen of monarch caterpillars on our back porch the past few weeks. After years of occasionally looking at milkweed and wondering how other people managed to find monarch caterpillars, in recent years I've sometimes found one or two. I'd bring them home, put them in a quart jar with airholes, feed them milkweed leaves and watch with fascination the cycle of caterpillar into chrysalis into butterfly.
Last year I didn't see even one monarch butterfly, let alone any caterpillars. I heard that between overly cold weather where they overwinter in Mexico and the spraying of pesticides on milkweed near fields where they travel, their future is looking dicey.
So I was delighted to spot a couple of healthy looking caterpillars on milkweed along the millrace. I left the big ones to manage on their own, and brought the young one pictured below home. It went through several instars, the stages where the caterpillar sheds its skin, allowing it to keep growing, and eventually we found it hanging from the top of the jar, in the typical "J" shape that means it's about to form the chrysalis. Sure enough, soon there was the light green case with its gold trim, and it is still out on our back porch, with the hidden work of changing into a monarch butterfly.
In the meantime, as I brought in milkweed from our backyard for it to eat, I discovered another, larger caterpillar and then on a nearby small milkweed, four eggs. For a week, it seemed I could not bring in a milkweed leaf without discovering an egg or a newly hatched caterpillar. The count at the moment is nine chrysalis, one caterpillar hanging in a "J" and two caterpillars still chowing down on milkweed. The largest caterpillar went in to chrysalis a day or so after I brought it in, and emerged last Tuesday. I missed the emergence, but discovered it while its wings were drying. Unfortunately I had to leave for a meeting and so didn't see it take flight.
John and I did get to see several of the caterpillars enter the chrysalis stage, their caterpillar skins splitting, revealing the pale green shape underneath, gradually shrinking and hardening into the jade case. Fascinating -- as will be the emergence of a dozen butterflies in 10- 14 days. And then either this generation or the next will fly down to Michoacan, Mexico, spending the winter with millions of other monarchs there. Amazing!
Some sights from my vegetable garden this week. The tomatoes are finally starting to ripen, though I'm not sure whether this week's blossoms will make it to ripened-fruit stage. The tall, feathery dill are volunteers, but no surprise -- they self-sow and I always leave some to provide fresh dill weed for potato or cucumber salads. And the swallowtail caterpillars seem to like it too. There are a few other volunteers -- one tall sunflower, a red potato plant, and a vine full of what is probably cantalope. Too bad I can't photograph the tastes of all these goodies. And if anyone needs a few zuchinnis, just ask!
This was a good week for a trip down to the calendar garden, where the summer flowers provided bright splashes of color -- and so did the insects. One image that didn't make it into the camera is the many blue dragonflies helicoptering over the pond. And another is the golden eyelid on the frog sunning himself on a lily pad. There was plenty of other color, though, and the intricate lace of a golden dragonfly's wings.
My approach to contemplative photography --
Tell about it."
Mary Oliver in "Sometimes"