Tuesday, August 31, 2010

So Many Chrysalis!

can you see the outline of the wings?
Chrysalis' preparing to hatch after 10 - 14 days of growing

waiting, waiting...
Butterflies waiting to be released on the 26th.

hey there little guy! My Dad releasing butterflies on his birthday

monarch caterpillar One of the final 5 cats. in the house today.

Well Hello again friends, I have an update on the caterpillars. But first I want to share with you that I have released 180 monarchs. I am really happy about this fact. It is really a sweet feeling seeing the butterflies fly off my hand everyday. Did you know they have sticky little feet that they tastse plants with? That is how they find the milkweed to lay their eggs.
There are about 107 chrysalis now and they are going start hatching fast this week. And how do you know when they are going to hatch? They are green for most of the time, then about 24 hours before they hatch the chrysalis turns dark and you can see the black and orange wings clearly.
So the update. I have consulted with a few other Monarch Waystation-ers. They have confirmed that they have also been loosing cats. left and right. It seems that things have been going pretty well until the second week of August. So maybe the excessive heat triggered a vectore that caused the cats. to become ill. A virus? A bacteria? It is hard to tell. There is also speculation that the leaves on some plants have something wrong with them. I do think mine were the last batch of cats. that I brought home. So as of tonight the total is 38. I am just shocked at how fast this happened.
I have about 5 cats. left and I am hoping that they will be able to make thier chrysalis.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Sad News on the Caterpillar Front

oh my I feel terrible about this! In the last 24 hours I have found about 21 sick and dying caterpillars in the house and outside! They are laying on their side, vomiting and then after several hours they die. Caterpillars do not lie on their sides! As soon as I saw that I knew something was wrong. I just don't know what I did wrong. Of course this could be something out of my control completely. When you do a project like this you definitely feel like you are playing God but I also like the feeling that I am helping these guys survive.
So there are a few possibilities of problems. I could have brought home some caterpillars that were affected with a virus or bacteria. I also may have brought home milkweed leaves that had been sprayed with a pesticide. Although I find that unlikely, it is possible. I think the more plausible explanation is bringing home caterpillars that are infected with something. Yikes! I had such a good run. I am hoping to find out more, I emailed a man I know that has much more experience than I do. I will post the results tomorrow.
My butterfly tally is 166! i am happy about that! I have about 120 chrysalis right now.
Good night!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Caterpillar Crazies!

the big reveal! Caterpillars shed their skin 5 times as they grow. The last time they molt is when they shed their skin and reveal the chrysalis.

resting in the 'J'
Before they shed their skin they rest in the "J" state for about a day. As they are hanging they are expanding their skin in preparation for it to split.

The Butterfly Tally is 148!!!!
There are 104 Chrysalis!

On my way home from work yesterday I called Lee (dh) to say hi. He asked when I would be home because the caterpillar house was out of food and the little guys were - literally- running all over the caterpillar house looking for food. So I advised him on how to fix that. When I got home- a few were still running about and had not found the new leaves yet. They were very hungry and as soon as they got onto a leaf they started munching. I fixed up a few new stems of milkweed from my garden for them. I was also looking for two very tiny cats. that had hatched from hidden eggs previously this week. I was hoping they had not been eaten by the really huge cats. They do this sometimes in situations of overcrowding and little food. I have not witnessed any cannibalism this summer but that doesn't mean it can't happen. I did find them. As I was cleaning the house I noticed many of the largest cats. were already hanging in their "J" on the roof. I counted up those cats.-22, the number of cats just resting up there- 9- number of chrysalis'- 79! In the next two weeks I will be having large numbers of butterflies hatching. I can't wait. The tally for released butterflies is 140 as of yesterday, Lee released them before I got home.

I mentioned in my last entry that the egg laying has slowed down. I found no new eggs yesterday so that is why I cut a few stems for the cats. out of my garden. I also discovered yesterday they one of my spots where I collected stems has been mowed :( So I need to search out another area for my remaining cats.

I Found a new caterpillar today, an anise swallowtail! I found it at work where I was weeding a clump of Queen Anne's lace. So I brought it home but I had a problem, how do I keep the QAL fresh? Luckily I had one of those little water tubes used for fresh flowers. They just were not big enough to put into a vase. If you look very close you can see the caterpillar.
trying to keep queen anne's lace alive

The other photo here is a vase I am using out in the cat. house. You need to keep the caterpillars from dropping into the water so covering the vase with plastic wrap and a rubberband works. A double works better than one. Pull the wrap taught and slice a small hole in it. When you push the stem of the milkweed plant through it will expand to the correct size. I also place a wad of wrap around the bottom of the stem to be sure.
vase system for milkweed

Sunday, August 22, 2010

This is what I call a Family Tree!

newly hatched monarchsegg and caterplillar storage

A monarch resting before being released, this can take a few hours. And the new improved caterpillar storage system

What a family tree!

Everyone munching on the same branch!

ladybug laying in wait ladybug eating aphids on milkweed

A lady bug doing it's job eating aphids!

*I just want to say thanks for all the sweet email & fb messages about the butterflies. I truly enjoy this, however my slightly obsesive personality has gotten a hold. If I go out to visit the caterpillar house I find that and hour or more has passed since I opened that door :). I am happy to share this with you and it makes me happy that you are all enjoying the experience too! *

Now back to regularly scheduled programing....

I was out this morning checking in with the cat. house. There were 9 butterflies yesterday and 11 today. The tally for released butterflies is 137 give or take a few, I don't have a completely accurate number for Friday the 20th. I guess I was in too much of a hurry ... But I digress. The egg laying has slowed down this week in my garden and I think it may have something to do with the yucky aphids. I blasted off all the critters with the garden hose. Not as easy as it sounds! I had to cup the tops of the plants in my hands and blasted them. now multiply that by 12 plants, some with multiple branches. I got a couple of funny looks from the nieghbor- whatever man! It did not take very long. Consequently my arm was covered in creepy crawlies- shudder- So the egg laying has stalled at 520 and the butterflies should be turning around and starting the journey to Mexico very soon. The egg laying doesn't surprise me. I did say that I would just collect until I couldn't find any more eggs, so we'll see what this week brings.

I have found that this little project for the summer takes some time to attend to. Caterpillars eat- a lot- and with eating comes the pooping...They poop a lot! As they get larger so does the poop. Sometimes I can't even see a caterpillar when they hatch from their egg, except for the little hole they eat in the leaf and the tiny dust-like poop. As they grow- so does the poop! If you don't clean the boxes you keep the cats. in before they go into the cat. house, the poop can contamiate everything and the little guys begin to die. I lost 3 cats. today because I was pretty distracted yesterday and thought everything was ok. When I opened the boxes today I found a lot of moldy leaves and I had to search for the very smallest cats. If you decide to jump into this for next summer just remember that you have germs and so do the cats. so wash your hands before nad after handling.

I watched 4 caterpillars pupate (make their chrysalis) this morning and I again missed 3 butterflies emerging. Darn! I keep missing it. That must go very quick. When the butterfly emerges its wings are wrinkled and its abdomen is very swollen. The fluid inside the abdomen is the gently pumped into the wings to expand them. The butterfly then chills out for the next few hours waiting for their wings to harden and they test them out flapping every few minutes until they are strong enough to fly.

monarch right after hatching

A monarch right after it emergered from its chrysalis, note the swollen abdomen.

They will feed soon after they beging flying. During the first part of summer and spring, the butterflies will mate and females lay about 500 eggs over a couple of weeks and then live a couple more weeks after that. I did mention earlier that the monarchs butterflies emerging at this time in the summer go into a period of diapause- they put off mating until next spring when they begin the journey north and then they will die. So this generation will live about 9-10 months.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Latest Monarch News and Blues

monarch on sunflower @ Purdue

Well I can't believe this! I have released 86 Monarch butterflies up to today! The egg count as of tonight is 449! Unbelievable! I am also very surprised that about 80% have been collected in my own garden. I am really surprised at this since last summer I collected only 35 eggs and released about 22 monarchs. The only difference I can see is that I go out almost everyday and look at the milkweed plants.

In keeping track of the eggs collected and butterflies released, I am also keeping track of the little failures too.. I have had a few caterpillars die in the process of pupating (making their chrysalis) and three butterflies that have emerged with deformed wings. I think the caterpillars died because of our extreme heat this week. At least that is what I suspect. Unfortunately I have had euthanized the butterflies. In doing a little research, I found that the ones who emerge deformed are usueating flowersally carriers of a deadly fungal disease and/or a deadly bacterium. In any case, they cannot fly or feed so euthanizing is the most humane end for those individuals.

I find it very interesting that the caterpillars do not just eat all of the leaves in the milkweed stems I have giving them. I have observed them eating the seed pods and flowers too! So cool!
Have a great day! And don't forget to smile! smile!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Aug. 8th Update on the Monarchs

monarch on native cup plant
Today the highlight was not so much releasing butterflies but the number of eggs that I have collected in the past few days. I collected 50 eggs in the past 2 days. This morning my friend Zahida came over and after looking at the caterpillar house we immidiately began looking for eggs to take home with her. We found 10 eggs and 1 caterpillar! Later in the day my sister stopped by and we found 7 more! Then I went our just before dusk (after the butterflies are fininshed for the day) and I looked on all of the pmonarch eggs on a tiny leaflants and found- get ready for this- 26 more. I even found 2 tiny eggs on one very tiny leaf. The picture is right there, that is the whole leaf.

This is getting big. The tally is 358. We released only 2 butterflies today but there are about 35 chryalis' out there. I should have many to release later this week. Unfortunately I did have 3 chrysalis' that should have hatched but they all had "the black", a bacterial infection that kills the developing buttechrysalis' with 'the black'rfly. It appears in a percentage of caterpillars and developing butterflies. Just a fact of life. The majority of the butterflies should develop normally.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Cute pictures of caterpillers & update!

I collected eggs today with my nephews and niece! Thanks Julia, Steve & Andy! With the extra sets of eyes, I think we found all of the eggs fromtoday. We found 31 eggs! There was one Monarch hanging around the garden and when a second one wandered in they were sparring in mid air! The males are very territorial! ~ the egg tally is now 314! I released 2 butterflies today. So my total is 56! I took a

caterpillar eating common milkweed

few cool pictures today, I hope you enjoy them.....

Hey I'm tyin' to eat here!

Wiggle while you monarch pupatingwork!

Muncha buncha Muncha buncha fritos go with lunch....

caterpliiars eating milkweed

Ahhh almost out.. I am sooo hungry... flowers flowers flowers...male monarch waiting to be released

Friday, August 6, 2010

Update for Aug 6th

aphids on milkweed unknown caterpillar predator

OMG I collected 14 eggs last night and 19 today! I am finding eggs more easily at home than anywhere else. In fact I went over to a "natural area" in my town. Well I deffinately didn't find any eggs because the mosquitos were crazy! So all I got was stems of milkweed to feed to the caterpillar house. Also it seems that the female monarch will not lay eggs on milkweed that is infested with aphids- yuk! So I guess they are pretty smart! And I have noticed that some of the caterpillar really ddiving into dinner!in the seed pods. This big guy is diving right into his latest meal- literally!
The photo of the little bug above is one that I took about 3 years ago when I first started this whole endeavor. It had just finished eating a baby caterpillar, which is why I started the egg collecting thing.
Well the tally goes like this: 52 butterflies released today and one extra that had wonky wings. I think it will remain in my garden. The egg count is 283! WOW!

Thursday, August 5, 2010