Thursday, July 28, 2011

Wow! Egg Laying has Really Picked Up!

Well, things have really picked up! I was so forlorn, depressed even melancholy because all winter I had planned and prepared and grew plants ....and no monarchs, no eggs until this week. I lamented to my buddy Bob who is my caterpillar guru and he said Patience is what I need and a few "starter cats" So I raised up 22 that he gave me. They are in the pupa stage now. Since I have found a few cats at work I have had a steady stream of onesies and twosies to release. Anytime I get to release a butterfly I am happy! Now that I have released a few females (and males) I have visitors! In the last 3 days I have collected 79 eggs!!! So exciting!
The really big news is about the black swallowtail caterpillars. I have collected 74 caterpillars and eggs in the last 10 days! All from three pots of carrot plants and dill plants. I will definitely grow both of those next year. Anyway, As they were growing bigger and bigger I took Lee's (DH) suggestion of putting them into the cat house because there were more of them than monarchs. So I placed a small window box of carrots in the house and they destroyed it in 72 hours! There are many cats in all sizes in the cat house. A really cool thing to observe with these cats is the variety of color of their skin as they grow. They go through 5 moltings to get to the chrysalis stage, each stage is a little different than the previous. Now the largest cats are doing their "walk abouts" and preparing to make their chrysalis'. There are 6 chrysalis' now. One of the interesting things I found was that when they do this walk about they are not afraid of taking several free falls from the sides and ceiling of the cat house. A totally different behavior than monarchs. Believe me, I spent many hours watching cats last summer, monarchs don't free fall. They lock on and don't let go. Black swallowtail cats have a defense mechanism a little different than other cats. If they feel threatened or you apply a little pressure on them they shoot out it's osmeterium, or scent gland. It smells like sulfur- oh ick! It does not really wash away either. Very interesting caterpillar. I think all these things make this cat ideal to raise for observing with kids. It is as simple as a few pots of carrot plants and dill. Curley parsley is also popular with the cats. Make sure you have necter plants for the butterflies to feed on. Butterfly bush is very popular with the swallowtails. If you choose to do this, time your plantings so you have mature plants when the eggs really start coming (usually early July on. in the Chicagoland area) then plan on making a second planting and possibly a third of dill. I am on my second and going to plant a third this weekend.
If you want more info on raising black swallowtails click here:
As always, contact me if you have questions! I will reply as soon as I can.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

July 10 Update

So much to update you on concerning the cats! I have released 12 monarch butterflies and 8 black swallowtail butterflies. Four of these butterflies turned out to be my wandering cats. They ended up making their chrysalis' on my dried hydrangea arrangement on the kitchen table! I sort of thought that would happen. Needless to say I learned my lesson to keep the lid on the aquarium from now on. Presently I have 11 cats in the aquarium of various sizes. My first batch of butterflies are almost all hatched and it may be a little while before I have more hatching.

When I change the old milkweed stems for new ones, I usually check them very carefully for small cats that may be hiding. Lately I have been dropping the leaves and stems into a bowl for the compost pile. Today when I went to go dump it, there was a small but healthy caterpillar sitting there on the wilted leaves. So into the aquarium it went. Whew, dodged that. This happened last summer a couple of times too.

I have been trying a little experiment this summer. I have a theory that if I take each female butterfly and place her directly on a swamp milkweed plant or carrot (black swallowtails) that she may return knowing that there is a host plant in my garden. Without tagging the little lovelies I cannot be sure it works. I can hope. Today I was pleasantly surprised that a female black swallowtail spent a while in my garden laying eggs! I can't be sure she is one of my releases but I hope she is. I collected 24 eggs from my dill and carrot plants. Now keeping the carrot and dill stems alive until the cats hatch is going to be a challenge. I may have to employ the hubby to check the vases when I can't. Dill stems are definitely not as hardy as milkweed.

A few days ago I saw two male monarchs tussling in the garden vying for territory. I does look strange two butterflies behaving like birds! I just hopes that this means that I will see more eggs soon!