Archive for September, 2012

The butterfly emerges: the good, the bad, and the worrisome

September 29, 2012

The good: I came outside at about 9:40 this morning, and discovered that my chrysalis had changed markedly — it was now semi-transparent, and you could see the beautiful monarch butterfly inside. I knew that this meant the adult was soon to emerge!

The bad: Unfortunately, I had to attend a meeting of a group I belong to, and I had to leave. I hoped that the emergence would hold off until I got back.

Alas, it did not! By the time I got back, about 12:30, the chrysalis was a mere shell and the butterfly was nowhere to be seen.

The worrisome: I finally solved the wasp mystery: I found the European Paper Wasp nest. It was very near the chrysalis, actually inside one of my wind chimes:

So there we are — the actual nest with at least three live wasps in it.

The worrisome part is — could they have eaten the Monarch butterfly as he emerged from the chrysalis?

Now, I have no evidence that this is what took place. But I worry. The nest is quite near the chrysalis:

And a Google search found evidence that wasps do, on occasion, eat chrysalises or, presumably, emerging butterflies. I found this image on the web:

(http://bugguide.net/node/view/137284/bgimage)

As I say, I have no evidence. But I worry. I expected that even if the butterfly had emerged by the time I got home I would see it sitting around somewhere, as I know they don’t fly off immediately. But the three hours I was away was probably sufficient time for it to expand to full size and fly away. I certainly hope so! Yet, as stated on http://www.monarch-butterfly.info/Life-Cycle.html, at the point of emergence from the chrysalis:

… this monarch is extremely vulnerable to predators because it is not yet able to fly.

Do I trust the wasps? Not really! I can only hope this intrepid traveler made his or her way out into the sky unmolested!

I am upset that I did not discover the wasp nest earlier. I would have tried some way of getting rid of it or at least moving it to another area, given its proximity to the chrysalis.

In other worrisome news, my milkweed plants, once again, are looking horrible. This is the relatively new Silky Gold milkweed, which was very healthy when purchased, now with a strange white dust and a sticky resin on many of the leaves:

Both sets of plants are not a pretty sight:

If anyone knows how to treat sick milkweeds, please let me know!

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Behold the Chrysalis!

September 26, 2012

In my last post, on Tuesday, September 18, I detailed how my caterpillar found a suitable location and attached himself to a beam on my front porch in preparation for pupating.

Well, the very next day, just about 24 hours later, he actually formed a chrysalis!

On that morning, at 11:00 a.m., I had a consultation with my garden designer, Rob Moore. We discussed the plants I would need for the upcoming fall planting season (more on that in a later post). I pointed out the caterpillar on my front porch, still in a “J” shape. After about an hour outside talking about my garden, we went inside so I could render payment for his services. As we walked in, I glanced up at the caterpillar, and it seemed to be about the same. I thought, I should do a Google search and learn how long a caterpillar remains in that position before pupating.

We probably spent 10 or 15 minutes inside the house. Then we moved outside so Rob could be on his way. We looked up at the caterpillar — lo and behold, it had formed a chrysalis in just the few minutes we were inside the house! There had been a total transformation to a completely green shape, not yet quite fully formed.

Though I did not see it in time to film it, here is a video from YouTube of the process:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nR-3y0zcu6o&feature=fvsr

I found the discarded skin on the sidewalk below the chrysalis:

About an hour later here’s what it looked like:

Here it is a couple of days later — a little more well formed:

It hasn’t changed much since then. I am hoping I can catch it when it hatches — a much slower process that I believe I’ll be able to film. Stay tuned!

The Caterpillars Leave

September 18, 2012

Well, both caterpillars have gotten big and fat and have left the milkweed in search of a place to turn into a butterfly.

The first one left yesterday, and I can’t find him. The other one, however, started his journey today, and I was actually able to FIND him about 20 feet from the plant, on one of the posts holding up the overhang of my roof near the entrance! This is great news. I’ve been photographing him all day — here we go:

And so begins the most amazing transformation of his life.

I don’t know how long it will take for him to form a chrysalis. I am hoping I will be able to photograph it!

Caterpillars Redux!

September 16, 2012

Finally I have some caterpillars that look like they will make it to maturity!

Within about a week of putting the net over the Silky Gold milkweed, I found two good-sized caterpillars munching their way through the leaves — each over an inch long. I don’t know if these were the tiny hatchlings I saw when I put the netting on, or they were larger ones that I just missed, but either way I was thrilled to see them!

Both molted within a couple of days, and since that time they have really taken off and look to be almost full size now! They spend almost all their time munching the poor plant’s leaves (not that it appears to be any worse for the wear).Because they are getting so big, I took the netting off — I definitely want them to feel free to roam if they are ready to pupate.

Fortunately, the wasps seem to have disappeared. I had read that they use juvenile monarchs to feed their larvae, so maybe the babies grew up, or perhaps the wasps just got bored and took off for more congenial environs — who knows! I think these wasps were European Paper Wasps, and I have seen a couple of structures under my eaves and my neighbor’s eaves that could possibly be abandoned wasp nests. In any case, they appear to be gone, thank goodness.

Here are the gorgeous creatures:

Big Wasp Problem

September 7, 2012

Recently I was thrilled to see that several Monarchs had found my milkweeds and laid quite a few eggs.  Some of these had hatched, and I found about a dozen tiny caterpillars in various locations. I also found two medium-sized caterpillars, over an inch in length, that had obviously been developing unbeknownst to me.

Then a few days ago,  I went to Armstrong Garden Center and bought a new milkweed, a cultivar called Silky Gold Milkweed (asclepias curassavica ‘Silky Gold’) that is similar to my existing plants, but with yellow flowers. I was worried about my existing milkweeds going the way of the previous ones — succumbing to disease and bug infestation. They had been showing signs of that, and I thought it might be a good idea to have a fresh plant ready to “take over” if the other ones succumbed.

I was pleased to see it already had a caterpillar on it, about an inch long. Not only that, a few Monarchs started visiting and seemed to prefer the new plant (which is much healthier-looking than my other ones) and laid several eggs on it.

So … I was eagerly following the development of these many caterpillars and eggs. But suddenly, within just a couple of days, I could not find a single caterpillar on any of my milkweed plants! The two inch-long ones were gone. The inch-long one on the Silky Gold plant was gone. And every single tiny one was gone. I could not find a single one.

Well, after a lot of research on the web, I finally surmised that the caterpillars were likely being eaten by wasps! I had noticed these wasps flying around the plants for some time, but thought nothing of them. But on the web I came across statements such as this:

This unsolvable wasp predation problem is one of the big limitations of the Monarch Watch’s residential Waystation program; i.e. within a few years of establishing a Waystation, the non-native yellow jackets and the European Paper Wasp take over the yard and monarch reproductive success plummets to zero or near zero.

(This is from a forum post on the Monarch Watch web site.)

I then started to notice how these insidious creatures always seemed to be flying around the plants, and flying under the leaves, appearing to be searching them for something — something that lives on the underside of leaves, as Monarch caterpillars typically do!

This was very discouraging news. I knew no way of eliminating the wasps or keeping them away from my milkweeds.

What I finally decided to do is set up a netting cover over my newest milkweed plant — something that would keep the wasps out until such time as the eggs hatched and the caterpillars grew large enough to pupate. So this is what I did:

Now, I have no idea if this will turn out to be a good idea or not. Perhaps the plant will be unable to adjust to the somewhat lower light environment caused by the netting. I am hoping that it will just lose a few leaves, but remain healthy.

Of course, no butterfly can get in to lay more eggs now. But I can’t see any other option — I know there are several eggs and even one tiny caterpillar on this plant, and the wasps have shown great interest in this new plant. I don’t think the creatures would stand a chance without this protection.

So, we shall see. I’ll post updates.