Tuesday, August 14, 2012

99 in the Shade

I am up to 99 Monarchs as of today! Despite my expectations that this would be a much better season, I think I have had more healthy butterflies and fewer caterpillar deaths. So low number- yes, disappointing- yes, better results -YES! 
One of the males released last week has staked out the garden- yet again, in hopes to attract a girlfriend. so I am expecting eggs this week.  
On Sunday I was out in the garden and 2 monarchs flew past me mating! Sorry. they flew away before I could get a shot but I included last year's photo

I have a few pix for you today.  

awe butterfly love!
cats. from the plastic container to the aquarium, next stop the garden!
cats. in the plastic containers that they start out in as eggs, they are ready to move now, 
Number 99!

hmmm where's  lunch? 

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Slowly but Surely

Well it is the second week of August and I should be swimming in caterpillars and cat. eggs. And caterpillar poop ;) To say this has been a dry season is an understatement. I have in total collected just about 125 eggs and cats for the whole summer. I have been raising cats. in small batches. All in all that has been easier. Albeit very disappointing. I have had 3 male monarchs stake out my garden as territory for mating but no females have found them. There is one here now and I am hoping that one of the 4 females I released this weekend will come back. In an effort to "remind" the ladies that this is a safe haven for caterpillars, I take the butterflies outside and the first plant they touch is my tropical milkweed. I have no scientific basis for my theory that if they touch the mw first they will come back here to lay eggs, but I figure that it won't hurt my chances.
Last week at work I had some luck collecting. We moved a number of small butterfly container gardens from one facility to another (thanks to my #1 assistant Josh and Mike for taking such good care of the flowers!) due to an upcoming construction project. 24 hours later I was at the pool watering the containers and low and behold who comes floating in? A monarch, of course, but it was a male. "Whatever", I said to myself. I kept on watering and it flew off and then back again only this time it was female and she began laying eggs. So I began following her and collecting. At one point she flew up in front of me and fluttered in front of my face for a moment and then went to the nearest mw and began laying eggs again. This is not the first time this has happened to me. I always feel as thought they know what I am doing and know their progeny will be safe. I am not the only butterfly gardener this has happened too. I know others who have observed this phenom. Keep in mind that these containers were out on a patio all summer that was rarely visited by people and butterflies, apparently. We moved them and boom. When I returned to the same container gardens 3 days later I found 2 cats. that I missed before and began watering...about an hour into it a terribly faded monarch floated into the area and chose one planter and laid many eggs there for me to find. I collected a few, she flew off, I would go back to watering, she would come back, then I would collect a few more, she flew off. This went on for over and hour and every time I went in to collect she'd fly off, when I was finished she'd come back. Pretty cool, huh?

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Waiting Patiently...

June 17th and 77 healthy monarchs out the door! But I have been waiting and waiting for more eggs! I have not collected any since May 22. Wah! It is enough to frustrate a butterfly enthusiast to ....order caterpillars from the internet!  Especially since I need caterpillars, eggs, chrysalis and butterflies for the Fourth of July celebration at work. I plan on bringing an aquarium full of life to our annual family fun day. I always talk about butterfly gardening and rearing but rarely do I have any cats or chrysalis to show. However, the weather and schedule of the butterflies' arrival has been so unusual that I will have plenty this year. So, nah, I won't be ordering any cats. from the internet. 
eggs collected yesterday on flowers and leaves
I was lucky yesterday! I went out at about 5:30pm and collected a dozen eggs before the  predatory insects could snatch them up. Late afternoon seems to be a good time of the day to collect. I saw all different species of critters crawling on the MW. There is a lot of life on a MW plant. I saw a few early Oleander Aphids and milkweed beetles that are the prettiest color of red I have ever seen. I saw nymphs of other insects too including one little critter disguised as a piece of fluff, a very tiny bit of fluff and hover fly larva.
Those darn momma monarchs laid eggs on lots of the flower buds on my common MW plants. When they do that you need to take in the whole flower cluster so the bit that the egg is on can remain fresh until hatching. 
my new chrysalis tree, needs a few rocks inside the bottle to keep from getting top heavy
Last weekend when I was cutting down my sweet autumn clematis (I always whack it back to control its size) I uncovered a monarch chrysalis! It was just under the layer of vine that I was cutting back, so lucky indeed! I have never found one outside before! So I brought it in and put the chrysalis on my new chrysalis tree, to keep it safe. It hatched this morning, a beautiful female monarch. She and a few of her friends will be hitching a ride with me as a father's day surprise. We will release them this afternoon at dad's. Happy Father's Day!
butterflies ready for travel

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

First Butterflies Released!!

Saturday-Sunday I released the first MONARCHS! 
Tuesday June 5th: I came home today to a beautiful sight! 8 healthy monarch butterflies all lined up in a row ready to go! Lee and I realeased 2  female and 6 males. When we were done I looked one last time in the aqauarium and Surpise! One more female hiding in between the sheets of paper towel.
Wed. June 6th: I came home from work today and the last 2 of my first group of monarch hatched. So all 18 of my first batch hatched and out the door! Healthy butterflies too!

I have about 55 more chrysalis' outside in the caterpillar house. They should begin hatching in a few days. 
During the high temps of Memorial Day weekend I did loose 9 caterpillars to the heat. I hope to bounce back in my numbers later in the month. 

The milkweed is starting to bloom! If you see it or have it in your garden go and look for caterpillars and smell the beautiful fragrance!
My b-fly bush did not die back at all last winter

Saturday, May 26, 2012

 I added 51 cats to my caterpillar house today. I placed vases of water covered  in saran wrap (so the cats. don't fall in the water) in the house with common milkweed. 
 I think the cats were happy to move out of the aquarium and into the airy house.
I have about 20 chrysalis so far but they are in the aquarium, They should start hatching in about 8 or 9 days.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Well, I am on my way to a great summer of raising caterpillars! 96 eggs collected already, I even collected a few random eggs on mw that was destined to be food! So luckily I found them before they were eaten! 
The above photo was taken on Friday. this cat is only a couple of hours old and yes, that speck of dust is caterpillar poop! 

Black Swallowtail butterflies that made chrysalis' last summer, waiting to hatch this spring.

These are swamp mw plants just waiting to grow a little larger and the caterpillar house to come out from the garage. When the cats. get big enough, they will go outside into the caterpillar house. 

Black swallowtail caterpillar eggs on dill

Saturday, May 12, 2012

The Monarchs Have Arrived!!!!

Well here we go! I have collected 28 eggs so far. I started on May 8th. I normally don't start collecting eggs until late June and things really ramp up in August. This is the earliest I have ever found any eggs. My friend Bob started collecting on the 2nd of May and is now up over 350+. Also the earliest he has ever collected. This is so exciting! The warm weather brought the butterflies here so early! I am going to keep things under control though, no trying to collect hundreds at a time. I want to try raising small "batches" over the long summer and keep the numbers of cats per container smaller. I think over crowding has been a problem for me in the past. 
Last year my final count was 234 healthy butterflies released and  only had to euthanize 2 or three that were deformed when their chrysalis opened. Overall a good record but I think when the population boomed in August, I had too many per container (pre-caterpillar house), When that happens they can die because of cannibalism, bacterial infections and generally unsanitary conditions. That is my goal this year- be more contentious of what the cats need.  So I will keep you updated regularly! 
I am hoping that this weather that has brought a lot of flowers into bloom 4 weeks early, will also nourish them enough that we will have an over all better butterfly season. I have already seen Many red admirals, frittilaries, skippers, mourning cloaks, black swallowtail and a few others. This is a great start! In fact the Chicagoland area was host to an uncommon phenomenon of a red admiral migration. They migrate but not in as many numbers of monarchs and not always in the same area every year. So we were lucky that the late lilac shrubs were in full bloom when they caught the scent of it the red admirals were all over that plant throughout the area. 
I have grown and purchased many new plants for my butterflies. I will be planting about 20 tropical milkweed to accompany the 20 swamp milkweed in the garden. I was very successful at making cuttings from my 1 trop mw that I brought into the greenhouse for the winter. I took regular cuttings and ended up with about 25 plants. Verbena bonnariensis is a must have for any butterfly gardens. It is an annual with skinny but strong stems and clusters of tiny purple flowers. Doesn't sound too appetizing right, well if you are a butterfly this plant is a magnet! Another must have is zinnias! Any zinnias, any size and the brighter the colors the better! My favorite butterfly flower is Mexican Sunflower, Tithonia. It is a rather tall annual, 4-6' so you need a little more room than the average annual. But it is worth it!  The last one I will suggest is Heliotrope, a favorite of all butterflies, the plants can be overwintered in a 3 season room or greenhouse and cuttings are really easy. If you'd like to know more leave me a message! Happy Plantings!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Feb 5th Already! Oh My!

Oh how embarrassing it is that I have neglected my blog for so long.
So sorry friends!
I have dug out my monarch journal and the official count for the 2011 season is 226! The last monarch was released on October 3rd by Lee and she hung around for about three days. So I got a few great shots of her.
Believe it or not that photo is from my cell phone. I am really surprised it came out so nice.
So to recap 2011 a little more...
The common milkweed was spreading like crazy, especially into my neighbor's yard. I will have to take care of that next year. She eventually cut down all the MW and I almost had a heart attack until a week later I followed a female monarch while she layed no less than 50 eggs on the brand new sprouts. ;)

The Tithonia Mexican sunflower was an excellent decision to plant. My plants reached 7' tall and the three plants took up about 8 sq. ft. They look very homely when you put them in the ground, then you will this thing ever grow? It sits for a little while then shoots up fast and flowers late in the season. Mine flowers in late July- Oct because I didn't plant it until late June. I also added lots of Zinnia this year and was very please with them.

I again, had a huge monarch egg collection surge in late July and then a huge die-off in early Aug. This is the second year I have had this. I now think that my cats are too crowded in the flat containers. I need to spread them out even more. It seems like whatever is killing them spreads from one cat to the next and there is no stopping it.

Adding the tropical mw was another good idea. I had about 7 large pots planted all on tropical mw. The butterflies ( all species) liked it. I collected a fair amount of eggs from these plants.
So if you are thinking of "beefing" up your butterfly garden this year, add topical mw, zinnias, and Tithonia!