It was a pretty female and I released her on the lantana flower blooming on the deck. I like the way her colors coordinate with the blossoms, don't you?
I also have a couple of swallowtail cocoons in a large jar on the kitchen counter. These butterflies take longer than monarchs, but I'm hoping maybe one day this week they will hatch. I think they're probably going to be Black Swallowtails because I found the caterpillars on some wild parsnip I was cutting down.
I like the way their chrysalis is color-camouflaged to match the object it's attached to.
I'm guessing this one is green because that's the generic color? (if it was attached to a plant stem instead of a clear jar)
While I was off on Wednesday afternoon, I took advantage of the time to search for monarch caterpillars and eggs to re-populate the monarch ranch. My personal choice is to start with eggs or very tiny caterpillars because there's less worry about parasitic wasps or flies laying their eggs in the caterpillar.
Here are some eggs (you should almost always find the eggs on the underside of common milkweed leaves).
Here are some more common milkweed leaves with tiny caterpillars and an egg. This gives you an idea of how small these are--you have to look really carefully when scanning underneath the leaves.
Once I bring the leaves in the house, those with caterpillars on them can go directly to the "ranch." The leaves with eggs I put in a separate dish--this guarantees that the eggs don't accidentally get eaten when the larger caterpillars are munching on the milkweed leaves. I monitor the eggs and when they're almost ready to hatch, I cut off the portion of the leaf (with the egg still attached) and place it in the ranch on a fresh milkweed leaf.
I can hear you asking......"but how do you know when the egg's ready to hatch?" and here's a picture to show you:I'm still working on my close-up photography skills, but I think you can tell the egg on the left has gotten really dark on the tip--that's the little caterpillar's head! The egg on the right is still completely white. When they hatch, they're about the size of this letter "I"--soooo tiny! But they grow fast and in a couple of days they've doubled in size.
I'm fortunate to have lots of common milkweed growing in several places in the backyard and if I was a good planner, I would pick a bunch of milkweed leaves and keep them in a baggie in the fridge, but I usually have enough time to pick fresh leaves every morning. I transfer the caterpillars to their new leaves and yesterday's old, dried-out leave goes in the compost bucket.
Once they hatch into monarch butterflies, I release them in the backyard where there are plenty of purple coneflowers blooming for them.
Compared to last year's records, my first monarch (also a female) was released on July 30th, so I'm actually a week ahead this year! I grew and released a total of 19 monarch butterflies last year and right now I have 6 eggs and 3 caterpillars for the ranch. My goal for 2008 is to beat last year's total by 5 (an increase of 25%). I also ordered my monarch tagging kit and a butterfly net from MonarchWatch. Last year I tagged 10 monarchs that I raised and also some wild ones I caught in the backyard (but I can't find that record sheet right now). Watch for future Monarch Ranch updates in the coming weeks.
While I was searching the milkweed patches, I also came upon this little spider in a really lovely web. Does anyone know what kind of spider this is? It was very long and skinny.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
I would also like to wish a "Happy Birthday" to my Sissy, who's enjoying an excellent time in Ely, Minnesota, shopping at the Blueberry Arts Festival and feeding fish guts to bald eagles on beautiful Snowbank Lake. Hopefully she'll bring back some good photos to share on my blog.