Archive for August, 2013

The Miraculous Transformation — Part 3

August 28, 2013

July 30

Here’s one I missed from that day: Butterfly #3, the southernmost chrysalis hanging from the wall on the side of my house. She’s a good-sized butterfly — one of the caterpillars who managed to make it to a normal size before running out of food:

Just out

Just out

A little later. This one'a girl.

A little later. This one’a girl.

July 31

The first one out on this day was Butterfly #14, hanging from the concrete block on top of the wall:

Just out.

Just out.

I noticed something different about this butterfly almost immediately. Instead of grabbing on to the top of the chrysalis and hanging there for a bit, she was instead moving rapidly sideways on the concrete. This is most unusual — most butterflies attach themselves to the chrysalis and then sit there for the next few minutes pumping out their wings. But this one went some distance to the right, as you can see above, before settling down, and before pumping any fluid into her wings. After a bit, I moved the terrycloth above where she was sitting, and then she tried over and over to pull herself up onto it, but kept failing. At first I could not understand why — it just seemed as if she could not get a good grip on it.

Then I looked closer and noticed that on her right front leg, those two little “hooks” that a Monarch has at the end of its legs seemed to be missing!


That was the answer — I don’t know whether it was genetic, or if the little hooks got torn off when she tried to grab the concrete after emerging from the chrysalis. Whatever the reason, her right front leg was effectively a stump, of no use in holding on to anything.

She was very frustrated, trying over and over again to climb up onto the terrycloth. The normal way is for the butterfly to move “hand over hand” with its two front legs, and bring the hind legs along afterward. That was out of the question here, and I was very worried. But she eventually managed, as the above picture shows, to get enough traction on the terrycloth using her good front leg and one of her hind legs. There she stayed for a while, pumping fluid into her wings.

To add to the difficulty, it was a very windy day, and I constantly worried she was going to get blown off. Finally it happened, and she had to start flying before she was really ready. However, she successfully landed on one of my yarrow plants, and to my great relief, was able to crawl around successfully on the plant:


She seemed to have adjusted to just using her right front leg as sort of a crutch to hold herself up, while clinging with the other legs:


I think she will be fine!

The next one to emerge was Butterfly #15, the one that was hanging from my wheelbarrow. This was a fine big male. Here he is:

Just out

Just out


Up onto the terrycloth -- attaboy!

Up onto the terrycloth — attaboy!

August 1

Next came Butterfly #17 out of its tiny chrysalis on my Winifred Gilman sage. As expected, she was a tiny butterfly:

An inch and a half!

An inch and a half!

But otherwise she seemed fine.


While I was photographing #17, a couple of bees buzzed by in an odd configuration:


Either they are a mating pair, or some  Godzilla bee has kidnapped a normal bee. Anyone know anything about bees?

Finally, the last to emerge was Butterfly #5, the one that was pupating on my neighbor’s potted plant. This one was a lovely male:

Just out.

Just out.


After a bit he flew off and landed on one of my asters — whereupon he spread his wings like the magnificent creature he is, showing off for me. You can clearly see the characteristic “maleness,” with the two spots on the hindwings and the much thinner veins:


So there we have it — all eighteen butterflies hatched and flew off successfully! Monarchs have continued to show up in my yard — several a day usually. I suspect they are of this group. Some more eggs were laid on the milkweeds, and as of this writing there are about seven caterpillars in various stages of development. (The plants have grown back most of their leaves, fortunately, and I also purchased two more just in case!)

The truth is, in the summer California native gardens go dormant, and just about the only thing going on is the drama with the butterflies. The plants themselves look like ratty, spent versions of themselves. I probably won’t post much more until fall, when things start happening again — we start pruning and planting (fall is the planting season in California, anticipating the winter rains).

I have added a couple of things to the garden over the summer, and I may post about that pretty soon. And I may post about the next batch of Monarchs. Otherwise, I think I will go dormant too!


The Miraculous Transformation — Part 2

August 17, 2013

July 30

This was the big big day — eight new butterflies entered this world from my little garden!

The first two out were numbers 8 and 10, on the wall post. That’s #8 in front, and #10 in the rear, just emerging, behind the chrysalis of #9, which hasn’t opened yet.



The next one out was Butterfly #7 (the chrysalis on the left above):







The pioneering trio, wings all pumped out:

I believe these are all females.

I believe these are all females.

The next one, finally, was #9. By this time, nos. 8 and 10 had climbed up on the top of the wall post.



By this time I had noticed a couple of the butterflies having trouble climbing onto the side of the brick, so I hastily put up some terrycloth. Here’s #7 making use of it (I think nos. 8 and 10 have already flown the coop). This picture also answers the question “Do smaller chrysalises produce smaller butterflies?” The answer is yes!


Shortly #11, on the opposite corner of the wall post, made her appearance:





Unfortunately, for some reason #7 refused to stay on the terrycloth. She kept trying to move off to the side — and at some point she fell! I didn’t see her fall, but I found her crawling around on the ground underneath the wall post. Fortunately her wings were developed enough that they were not damaged by the fall — she seemed unhurt. But newly hatched butterflies need to cling so that their wings hang vertically behind them, so I put some terrycloth on the Butterfly sign, then induced her to crawl onto a piece of screen and moved her to the terrycloth:



After a resting period of some hours, she finally flew off and seemed fine.

There was another “falling” mishap with #13, on one of the concrete bricks at the top of the wall. Here’s he is in his chrysalis and newly emerged:





For a while I was preoccupied with some of the other butterflies. Then I looked over and saw #13 sitting on the milkweeds below his chrysalis! I can only assume he fell, but somehow landed on the milkweed. I don’t think he was developed enough to fly. In any case, there he stayed for several hours and eventually flew off, none the worse for it:



The next to emerge was #18 on my Royal Penstemon:

Another female.

Another female.

Finally, the small butterfly hanging from the Butterfly sign came out:

Also a female.

Also a female.

Following these creatures was exhausting on this day, but I was thrilled that there were no major mishaps, and they all went on their way apparently successfully. It’s worth noting that for the next couple of weeks, and to this day, I have seen many Monarchs flitting around my yard, and even laying more eggs! I suspect most of them are from this batch. Mazel Tov to all of them!

The Miraculous Transformation — Part 1

August 10, 2013

OK, I had 18 chrysalises, as detailed in my last post. They all hatched over a space of 5 days starting on July 28. In order to keep this entry from being extremely long (in which case I will probably never get around to posting it!), I’ll do it in several steps, by day.

July 28

On this day, only one butterfly hatched — chrysalis 16, the one handing from the overhead beam in the entryway. I actually saw it emerge, but unfortunately my camera was being recharged! I tried to take some pictures with my phone, but only this one came out:

This is a female.

July 29

On this day four butterflies emerged — numbers 1, 2, 4, and 6. I was actually able to film the emergence of #2!

The first to come out was #4 — the one behind the decomposed granite box:

This is a male.

This is a male.

Next came #1:

Just emerging.

Just emerging.

A little further along. This is a female.

A little further along. This is a female.

Then came #2, the one I filmed. These two pictures, taken about 2 1/2 hours apart, show the progression of the chrysalis as it approaches zero hour:



And here is the video of #2 emerging from the chrysalis:

I found this fascinating to watch up close! It was especially notable to me to see how, when the butterfly first drops down, it is kept from dropping to the ground by bracing its legs against the inside of the chrysalis. It then has to immediately find a purchase on the outside of the chrysalis. Almost all the butterflies did this by grabbing onto the the ridges at the top of the chrysalis. It’s obvious, watching this, that this is the purpose of those ridges. In the cases where the ridges were not so well defined, the butterflies had difficulty and had to find something else to cling to to keep from falling. This is probably the most vulnerable moment of the butterfly’s existence to this point.

Here’s a few more pictures showing the unfolding in the next few minutes:




This is a male.

This is a male.

Butterfly #6, the one on my Aster plant, also hatched this day, but I was unable to get a good picture of it. It’s hard for my auto-focus camera to figure out what to focus on when the butterfly is in a thicket of stems and leaves, and I’m not adept enough to manually focus.

Male vs. Female

How do I know whether these butterflies are male or female? Well, searching the web brings up images such as this one:


But I did not see any butterflies that looked like the one at the top — leading me to believe, initially, that all my butterflies were female!

But the problem is, when butterflies emerge from the chrysalis, you hardly ever see them from that vantage point — with their wings spread out, from the top. Instead, you are seeing the underside of the wings as the butterflies sit, with the wings together, waiting for them to dry out. And it turns out that the veins on the wings look entirely different on the underside from how they look on the top side!

I finally found a way to distinguish between male and female by looking at the underside:

Left: male; Right: female

Left: male; Right: female

On the male, there is a slight bulge on the third vein from the bottom of the hindwing (arrow on right) — either there is a small notch halfway down, or the top part of the vein is notably thicker than the bottom. And the three veins noted by the left arrows are slightly thinner than on the female.

So, now you know how to sex Monarchs!