Archive for June, 2013

Butterflies Hatch! … and other updates

June 24, 2013

Last time we checked in on the butterflies, they were both in chrysalises, and I was worried that the one who had pupated on a vertical surface might suffer some damage from the chrysalis not hanging straight down.

Well, about a week ago both butterflies hatched from their chrysalises within a day of each other. In the first case, I noticed that the chrysalis hanging under the wheelbarrow looked ready to hatch, but I was on my way to my morning Starbucks, without which I can’t function too well in the morning. When I got back, the butterfly was out!



And as I had hoped, she (I think it’s a she) climbed up on the terrycloth that I had glued to the handle:



This took place over a number of hours. Well, sitting and watching butterflies prepare to fly off is not the most interesting thing, so I got to the point of checking every ten minutes to see how she was doing. Once I went out, and she was gone! I did see her fly up from the vicinity of the asters on my mound, and fly off to my neighbor’s tree, but I wasn’t able to get a picture. It’s always a wonderful moment to me to see the butterflies take off.

In many ways I have not changed much since I was a child in the sixth grade. My class at that time had a Monarch caterpillar in a jar. We were following its development, feeding it milkweed leaves and watching it create its chrysalis … and then waiting for the butterfly’s emergence. When finally it happened, there was great debate about what to do with it. The teacher wanted to kill it and mount it, and so did a number of the children. I was horrified and objected vociferously — not something that I, a somewhat withdrawn child, often did. I stamped my foot and was very passionate! I almost cried, arguing for its release. I could not bear to see something so beautiful killed. After much debate, the teacher took a poll of the students, and most of them voted to let it go; I guess I had impressed them with my ardor! I will never forget the moment the teacher unscrewed the jar and set it outside, and soon enough the butterfly took off. I watched with joy in my heart as it fluttered skyward in its meandering way — I watched it get smaller and smaller until it disappeared from sight, the very symbol of freedom. I felt for the first time that I had actually achieved something important in my life.

The other butterfly emerged the next day. Once again, I missed it coming out, but when I got home I discovered it flopping around underneath the Cleveland Sage — but not injured, and apparently normally developed, I was happy to see! It had just not gotten to the point of being ready to take off. I found it odd that it had seemingly flown from high up on the wall down to the ground, as usually the butterflies don’t attempt to fly until they are ready to actually take off into the sky. I wondered if it had fallen — but it did seem unhurt; I guess it will remain a mystery. Eventually, it found its way onto one of the branches of the sage, and stayed there for the next couple of hours:



I did actually see this one fly off, but I was fiddling with my camera and not able to get a picture. I was pleased to see that she seemed perfectly normal in flight!

In other developments, the garden is inexorably moving toward its summer dormancy. The Cleveland Sage on the east side has finally lost most of its blossoms:





However, the more recently planted Cleveland Sage on the west side has come into bloom:



Predictably, the bees have transferred their attentions to this one!

The Winifred Gilman Sage on the east side has also lost most of its blossoms:



But again, the one on the west side has burst into bloom:



The Coyote Mint near the Winifred Gilman is also blooming:



Close up

Close up


Here they both are in one shot:


The prostrate “Selecte Mattole” fuchsia on the west side has also started to bloom:


The full west side picture:



One thing that’s disturbing me: my Pacific Wax Myrtles have started to lose some of their leaves in several places. All three specimens seem to be suffering to one degree or another from this problem:



This is the first year I’ve seen anything like this. I’m concerned that it’s “California Wax-myrtle Blight” as described on this page:

This is a compendium of Pacific Northwest plant information and so may not be applicable to our Southern California specimens, but the symptoms seem very similar. The article does not say what the prognosis is if left untreated. For the time being, I’m just going to watch it and see how it develops.

Finally, the asters on my mound have finally started to bloom, and are growing well:



My hope is that they will spread to cover much of the mound. Since I planted them last fall, they’ve made admirable progress toward that goal!


Less-than-smart Caterpillar Pupates!

June 3, 2013

OK, OK, maybe he’s not as dumb as I thought …

Because a few minutes after I last blogged, he pupated, apparently successfully! This must have been right after he went through the transformation, because he was still wiggling a little bit:



An hour later:



This actually looks pretty normal for an hour after pupation! The chrysalis is smaller than the other one, but otherwise looks fine.

So maybe caterpillars do know more about caterpillar business than I do! Mea Culpa!

Newsflash: Caterpillars are not as Smart as Humans

June 3, 2013

(In case you had any doubts about that, I will provide evidence! …)

Let’s get back to the caterpillar situation. A week or so ago, there were four Monarch caterpillars on my milkweed plants.

Then, a few days ago, I could only find two. While I was watching one of them, one of those dastardly wasps happened by … damn! I thought we didn’t have any this year. I decided to continue watching and see how it would react to the caterpillar. The wasp flitted in and out of the plant, under and around the leaves, seemingly looking for something. Then it came upon the caterpillar I was watching — and viciously attacked it! It crawled up on it and bit or stung the poor thing; I couldn’t tell which!  The caterpillar squirmed. At that point I batted the wasp away. It flew down to the ground and crawled around a bit down there;  I took the opportunity to hit it with some anti-wasp spray I had bought, and soon it was dead — good riddance! The caterpillar, fortunately, seemed unharmed and continued its munching ways.

But what this means is, we have a wasp nest somewhere in the vicinity, though I’ve been unable to locate it. Dastardly beasts! There’s no doubt in my mind now that the other two caterpillars were done in by one of these creatures.

Nevertheless, both these caterpillars survived to venture forth from the milkweeds and find a place to pupate.

Caterpillar #1 ended up, much to my consternation, on my wheelbarrow! I’ve been doing some work on my dry “stream bed”, trying to get it to look more like a stream bed:


Now I will have to put off this work until the butterfly emerges! Here’s where he ended up:



Within an hour, he had formed the characteristic “J” that’s a precursor to pupation:


And by the next morning the usual miracle had occurred: a beautiful chrysalis:


(I captured this process on film last year; see this post:

I took the time to glue a swatch of terry cloth on the wheelbarrow arm above the chrysalis. After the butterfly emerges, and hangs for a while from the chrysalis remains, it likes to move upward. Last year one of my emerging butterflies tried to get a toehold on a section of brick above its chrysalis, and FELL to the ground. (I blogged about that here:  The arm of the wheelbarrow seemed even more slick than that brick, so I am trying to make sure the same thing does not happen this year:


(I am nothing if not a mother hen with these creatures; it’s hard not to get attached … er, no pun intended!)

Well, then its smaller cousin got big enough to venture forth from the milkweed. Here’s where things got frustrating. This one searched for hours and hours for a suitable pupating spot.

First, he looked like he was going to go up the stucco wall behind the milkweed:


But no, he turned and headed past the milkweeds onto the path:


Then he left the path:


And finally emerged onto the sidewalk in the entrance to the house:


He passed by the pole with rotting base, which nevertheless would have been a great place to go:


I was happy, though, because he seemed to be headed for the door, where he could crawl up on the wall and find lots of places from which to hang:


But no, he decided to turn back:


Finally, he did start to ascend the wall near the end of the garage. By this time, he’s been crawling around for over an hour. But I was ecstatic, because he was headed right for an overhang that would be a perfect hanging spot.


Up, up he goes, but at a snail’s (caterpillar’s?) pace:


He climbs onto the wooden part of the wall, making me even happier, since he will definitely not miss the overhang now:


But then he STOPS … a scant 15 inches from the top of the entryway. You fool! I cry … You’re almost there! Go UP! Go UP!


But no, he stays there for hours, and it’s apparent, much to my horror, that he’s decided to pupate right there on the vertical surface.

Sure enough, the next morning he has formed the best “J” he can make in that unfortunate spot:


We shall see what happens! It’s possible he will be OK. It all depends on if he can form a chrysalis properly . Stay tuned … it should happen within a day.

Oh well, I guess if caterpillars were as smart as humans and could SEE the right place to go, they wouldn’t be caterpillars; they’d be something else!