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.

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