Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Brrrrrr July in Chicago

Well then, temps have not improved yet, this week! So the cat house remains indoors with the heat lamp on it. The cats. are eating and growing like crazy! In fact, they are running out of food. Tonight I will transfer them from the carrot plants inside the cat. house to another container of carrots. Then back into the cat house with the heat lamp on them. Just in case you missed my previous post, these are black swallowtail butterfly cats. They grow a little slower than monarchs and they eat most plants in the carrot/ parsley family. There are a few chrysalis already! Since it is a little late in the season, most of these chrysalis will not hatch until next May or June. There are a lot of butterflies that do this. Half of the brood will hatch 2 weeks after making the chrysalis is made. The rest of them overwinter. In my case, they will overwinter in the cat. house in my garage.

Imagine my shock (and my butterfly friends') when we realized that those chrysalis  were not going to hatch! I was very nervous! Would they overwinter ok? Would the freezing process damage them?  This revelation all happened 2 falls ago. Last spring on the second or third 80 degree+ day, I moved the cat. house out of the  garage and onto the sunny patio. Checking in on them every day, I noticed that the chrysalis' softened up and starred wiggling!  I thought they were going to fall off the inside of the cat. house frame! They all hatched about a week later.

On to the monarchs! I am happy to report that all 25 of my eggs hatched! Since one of the mamma monarchs laid her eggs on a perfectly dreadful looking swamp milkweed, I transferred them all to new tropical milkweed plants. As I was doing this, I came across one egg that looked like it was going to hatch any minute. So I put it on my kitchen counter in a sunny spot and checked on it while I was transferring the others. How did I Know that it was about to hatch?? As you can see in the photo below, there is a black spot on the top of the egg. Pay no attention to the two blemishes on the leaf. There is the reason why I transfer the cats. to new plants. Imagine how big those spots would be to a tiny cat.? I don't know what caused those spots, but a delicate cat. like a monarch shouldn't ingest it. It would be the equivalent of a human eating a giant four foot wide rotten pizza or the like.  

I finally got the Last shot of the monarch life cycle that I have been missing for four years. When a cat. hatches from it's egg, the first meal it eats is egg shell, an excellent source of protein! Mom always said eat your eggs! (I miss eggs) Anyhoo, below is the shot I got! I was very excited~ and instantly regretted not dragging out my tripod! When I was done, I was hot, dripping with sweat and had only a few shots that were fully in focus. So glad I finally have it.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

First Post of 2013, this late?

Yes it is true, this is my first post and it is July 28!  That is mostly due to the fact that I just started collecting cats. last week.  This has not been a problem just for me, everyone that I know who raises cats, all across the Midwest region, is having trouble. This is frustrating because we all want to help increase the butterfly populations. In fact  all summer, people have been talking about the distinct lack of butterflies. Unfortunately ,  I have no answers for you. I have seen very few myself. This does not mean that this is a permanent situation. Like all insects, they have ups and downs, so don't count them out yet. The monarchs, however are having the toughest time of it. Which is why I raise them. Since only one of every 10 eggs makes to the b-fly stage, raising them makes sense. 
I started finding black swallowtails (bsw) about 10 days ago. I was home sick for a couple of days and was dozing on the couch. From there I can see my deck flower boxes. I watched a large female lay eggs on my container of dill, carrots and parsley. Over 5 days I found about 35. Into the cat. house they went on a container of carrot plants. Then the weather changed... and got cold resulting in cold cats. I put one in my hand and it felt like a piece of ice! The over night temps were going to drop, last night, into the high 50's so into the living room the cat house went. This morning they were still really cold and not feeding. So Lee said they needed a heat lamp. He fixed me up with a utility light and a 100 watt light bulb.  And that is where they are tonight. 
I love watching butterflies lay eggs. They seem to float effortlessly from leaf to leaf. Then they dart away to look for another suitable plant, rarely revisiting any plant twice. It is really a beautiful thing to watch. When that mamma bsw was laying eggs on the deck planters, she flew right up in front of the window and when I came outside, she was not startled at all. Just continued her job.....
As for the monarchs, I have been so depressed, all summer, looking for eggs and finding none. I had pretty much given up until this week. Four days ago I just happened to pass by a fresh sprout of common milkweed and noticed One egg. I have always said to myself, "If there is one, there is 10." Know how many I collected? Exactly 10.  So, a good start. The next day 10 more....By this morning 3 cats had hatched. In the mean time...
Two weeks ago I had "borrowed" 5 monarch cats from my friend Bob. 
Yesterday they began hatching and with the cold overnight temps I felt they should stay inside until tomorrow. They are in an aquarium with a little "butterfly take-out". The weather will be warmed up a by tomorrow and I will release them. 
In conclusion, it has been a slow start, but I am sticking with it. More updates coming soon....