Tag Archives: butterfly

Raising Monarch butterflies

We had a very productive last summer. We raised and released 48 Monarch butterflies. We took in 50 eggs but only 48 made it to butterflies. The whole process was much more time consuming than beekeeping. To prevent disease, we changed Milkweed leaves and cleaned the nursery tanks daily. Once the last butterfly fluffed it wings out in the garden, a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction kicked in. Even if just one butterfly made it through the winter to produce a new generation is better than none.

We started with bringing in Monarch eggs. Searching under Common Milkweed leaves for them and cutting them off the plant.

A cream colored egg is the size of a pinhead
I cut leaves to small pieces, with the egg attached. Put them together in a small plastic container and covered it with a clear lid with a few holes in it. I checked daily for caterpillar hatchlings
Egg that’s just about to hatch will have a darker color at the tip of the egg

We only bring the egg in because the caterpillar stage may have some parasitic insect egg injected in them. Some wasps are known for this.

I transport a newly hatched caterpillar to a nursery tank. It’s very tiny.

At the caterpillar stage, a caterpillar will eat until it reach a point that it needs to molt. It will stop eating and not move until it molts. Then it will resume eating again until it grows big, ready for the chrysalis stage.

Some of the caterpillars we raised. I preferred cutting a branch than an individual leaf; much easier to manage.

Once a caterpillar is ready to pupate, it will walk around looking for a place to attached itself and turn to chrysalis. Most of our caterpillars attached themselves to the top screen cover but some attached under leaves. One escape artist managed to squeeze out from the tank, walked up the bay window and attached itself to the window sill near the ceiling.

Once they find a place, they spin a silk anchor patch, attach themselves and hang down in a ‘J’ shape hanging there for a day before turning into a chrysalis.

A ‘J’ shape before it molt again
First chrysalis stage is in green. It will stay at the chrysalis stage for around 11-14 days before it becomes a butterfly.
24 hours before it become a butterfly, the chrysalis turns blue gray
Then turns quite dark, almost black.
Then translucent just before the butterfly emerges
Top screen in one of our tanks
Various stages of transformation.
Hatched and ready to be transported outside. Wings will typically take a couple hours to dry enough to use.
Transported outside on a plant under the roof so they are protected from wind, rain and birds. They can fly off at their own pace, after their wings stiffen up enough to use.

Hopefully some of their children will come by this summer and we can help them raise their young again.

We also put together a short video of the whole process Enjoy here: https://youtu.be/HP3hu4m93nQ

One touch of nature makes the whole world kin…William Shakespeare


More Of Them This Year

The population of Monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) has been dwindling down to a point of concern that they may be heading toward extinction.  With a small patch of garden, we try our best to help them by letting the Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) grow.  It’s the only plant that Monarch caterpillars eat.

Common Milkweed flowers

A male Monarch soaking up morning sunlight in early July

I didn’t grow the first milkweed.  It came to our garden around three or four years ago.  The seeds are airborne but I had not seen any milkweed around our area then, but I may have overlooked it.  Though it falls in the ‘weed’ category, I let the first one grow anyway.  Then I fell in love with its fragrance.  The first lone milkweed has grown into a large patch now and we try to keep them confined to one spot.  They can be pretty invasive; every spring I have to pull out the ones that sprouted in the middle of the lawn or flower plots.  We also let them grow in the spots that are out of the way so as not to over-crowd the other plants.

Aside from enjoying its fragrant and beautiful flowers, it’s also host to a variety of insects both friend and foe of the garden.  This year we are seeing more Monarchs so we have started to monitor them more closely.  It has taken us a few years to be registered on their homing GPS as one of their destinations.  I guess they decided that our garden is a reliable food source for their caterpillars and young adults so they lay eggs.  We were so happy and excited close to the point of obsession.  We checked on them everyday!

Laying egg under the Milkweed leaf

A fresh laid egg

A day or two old caterpillar, just the same size as a grain of rice

Munching on Milkweed leaf

A little bit older, pale green color bands changed to bright yellow

A full grown caterpillar

Only a few of them survived.  I don’t know who might eat them.  Most likely wasps have taken them for the future youngsters in their burrows.  But a few are better than none.  Hopefully the ones that were born in our garden survive the long flight to Sierra Madre, Mexico, and the winter to tell the next generation where our garden is.

A female Monarch enjoy nectar from Maximilion sunflower

View more Monarch photos at Amazingseasons

Yellow Winter Butterfly

The Guest Who Came To Breakfast

I came out to make coffee in the kitchen this morning and found an unexpected guest resting on the kitchen sink.  I can’t really say ‘unexpected’ since I expected him to show up sometime in the near future but not this morning.  He has been lounging in his chrysalis next to our kitchen sink for the last couple of months, a totally different outfit.  This morning he came out fully dressed in bright yellow and just sat there staring at me.  I have no idea how long he had been there, in his new outfit.  Here he is…

Resting on our kitchen sink
Resting on our kitchen sink

I found him a couple of months ago when I picked some Swiss chard from our cold frame.  I didn’t want to put him in with the stuff to be  composted because I know that he’ll transform to a butterfly one day.  I set the Swiss chard stalk by the sink where it dried out and shrunk.  Every time I had to do something at the sink, I checked on him.

I didn’t expect him to come out this morning but it’s a great thing to wake up to.  Really made our morning.  I have no idea whether he is  a Sulfur or a Cabbage butterfly.  It didn’t matter what he is, I offered him  breakfast anyway.  I dropped some sugar syrup that I made for our honeybees for him and left him alone.  I came back a few minutes later and found he had moved to it.

Try sugar syrup
Try sugar syrup

Closer look
Closer look

And, his old cloth that he discarded

An empty chrysalis he left behind
An empty chrysalis he left behind

I went out to the garden for a while to do some pruning and to feed our honeybees and when I came back in, he was nowhere to be found .  He didn’t show up for dinner either.


Disappearing Monarch

Heading Toward Extinction?

An article in The New York Times yesterday entitled Monarch Migration Plunges To Lowest Level in Decades by Michael Wines leaves me saddened and disappointed.  Though the article mentioned that it’s “due mostly to extreme weather and a change in farming practices in North America.”  It doesn’t matter whether it is caused by the weather or farming practice, we can help slow the pace of extinction.  With the extreme weather, we may not be able to do much as individuals aside from trying not to leave too large a daily carbon footprint.  Maybe the planet will warm up a little bit more slowly.  But do we really need to get rid of every single Milkweed in America’s conventional farming area?  Do we need to genetically modify our vegetables to have resistance to herbicide so we can keep spraying chemical over the whole area to get rid of the weeds?

It takes the Monarch (Danaus plexippus) two generations for their trip from Mexico to the Northern US and Canada, and one generation to fly back.  They need a place to lay their eggs and food for their caterpillars; that’s where the Milkweed (Asclepias syiaca) comes in.  Monarch caterpillars feed mainly on Milkweed.  Without it, there will not be much chance for the next generation.  Please let some Milkweed grow in your garden so we can actually show future generations how beautiful the Monarch butterfly is and how great their annual migration is.  Years from now, I hope that we will still be able to see actual Monarch butterflies in gardens and meadows, not just in old nature documentaries and where a narrator says  ‘….Once upon a time there were plenty of orange and black butterflies called Monarchs…’

Monarch on an Echinacea bloom
Monarch on an Echinacea bloom

Taking nectar
Taking nectar

Monarch caterpillar on a stem of Milkweed we let grow in our garden
Monarch caterpillar on a stem of Milkweed we let grow in our garden

New Kids On the Block

First Seen This Summer

I spend time on my days off in the garden, doing the garden chores and stalking birds and insects.  I find something new in the garden every year.  It’s interesting to see how fast birds and insects learn to locate food sources.  Once you start growing something they like they always come around.  The same goes for bird feeders.  I put bird food out less often in summer because I don’t want the birds to become dependent on me for their survival.  I want them to work the garden and the surrounding watershed for their food.  Our feeders, however, are never empty in winter when the resident birds need the support.

I usually document my new finds by photograph, then look them up.  I’ve been lucky in identifying who has been visiting our garden so far.  Hopefully, I will see more new visitors before winter arrives.

From the top. I usually see the yellow version of Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus). This darker version looks almost like a Spicebush Swallowtail until I saw the underside of its wings (see below).

The underside clearly shows the common pattern of an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus).

Clymene Moth (Haploa clymene) has such a beautiful pattern. I think it came in for the Borage since I grew a whole lot for the first time this year, for the honeybees actually.

Eight-spotted Forester (Alypia octomaculata) is a day-flying moth

Spring Azure (Celastrina ladon) has beautiful pale blue on the inner side of the wings

Snowberry Clearwing (Hemaris diffinis) looks similar to the Hummingbird moth (below), but smaller and more black and yellow.

Hummingbird Moth (Hemaris thysbe) is common in our garden. This year they bring their cousin, the Snowberry Clearwing, along.

Red-banded Hairstreak (Calycopis cecrops) is a tiny blue-grey butterfly with a bright orange pattern.