Archive for the ‘Butterflies’ Category

Early Summer 2015

June 26, 2015

Now the inflorescence of spring has largely died down — though not completely — and we start to head into the hot, dormant days of summer. There’s every indication this summer will be worse than most, as we’ve already hit 90+ degree weather even though we’re only two days into official summer. But I guess that’s to be expected when we’re experiencing global warming.

There’ll always be something worth looking at in my garden, though — such as the simultaneous flowering of the fuchsias (Epilobium septentrionalis ‘Select Mattole’) and the Red Buckwheat (Eriogonum grande rubescens):



And a new Red Buckwheat on the west side is flowering for the first time as well:


One of the things I’ve had to do is move the fountain a few feet toward the road, as it was being overgrown by the Cleveland Sage (Salvia clevelandii), which has come into full bloom. (I always forget how huge the Cleveland Sage gets!)









The Winifred Gilman Sage is gradually losing its blossoms, but still looks beautiful:



My Seaside Daisies (Erigeron glaucus) finally produced a few blossoms, as well as the Asters behind them (Aster chilensis):


I’m not sure what’s happening with the Seaside Daisies just to the right of the blooming ones — they have not bloomed since I planted them a couple of years ago, even though they are supposed to be the same variety. For some reason, they are taking their time; it’s very odd.

The saga with the Monarch caterpillars and the Tachinid flies continues … I keep losing caterpillars and/or chrysalises to these dreaded predators — every one has died since my last post. I can’t seem to find any reliable information on how to combat them. Meanwhile, as the weather heats up, more and more butterflies visit my milkweeds and lay their eggs. I’m hopeful that sheer numbers will make it difficult for the flies to infest every caterpillar, and a few may yet survive. Such a disturbing trend!


Tachinid Flies

June 10, 2015

Last month I found a caterpillar hanging in the “J” position from the wall on the side of my house — I thought “Oh good, my first butterfly is coming!”.

A couple of days later this is what I found:



I could not imagine what had happened to it — especially since a few days earlier I had discovered another caterpillar in similar condition hanging from one of my succulents. What was going on?

The key, it turns out, is the little white string coming out of the bottom of the caterpillar. This is the tell-tale sign that the caterpillar has been infected by the dreaded Tachinid Fly.

Tachinid flies are parasitoid insects, meaning they lay their eggs in other insects. For this reason, they are generally considered “beneficial” insects, in that they can destroy pests without the need for pesticides. Unless, that is, you don’t consider Monarch caterpillars to be pests. These flies deposit their eggs in the growing caterpillars. They don’t kill the caterpillar immediately — usually the fatal blow comes after it has attached itself in order to pupate, or sometimes even after it has formed a chrysalis. Then the eggs hatch and the pupae exit the creature by means of the aforementioned string. Unfortunately, I haven’t been around to see the actual exit, so I have been unable to destroy the pupae. That means they have likely developed into even more flies.

From what I have read, 17% of Monarch caterpillars are destroyed by Tachinid flies. I guess I’ve been lucky up to this point … I haven’t had any until this year.

Here are some of the other victims of this insidious creature I’ve found around my yard:





Altogether I’ve lost at least seven caterpillars so far. I don’t know what to do about it, except to ride it out. There is precious little literature about how to get rid of this pest, seeing as it is considered a beneficial predator by most gardeners!

I have had two butterflies so far this year, one on the top of my garage door:


The other one emerged just this morning from a chrysalis on my neighbor’s gate, and flew off before I had a chance to immortalize her on film.

I can only hope that these flies disappear at some point!


Summer 2014 Quick Update

February 18, 2015

It’s been a LONG time since I’ve posted — very busy, and not much going on in the garden. So here’s a synopsis of what happened since I last updated last May:

In May, my Red Columbine near the entrance bloomed more than it ever has:



Alas, it has since died — I’m not sure why! But at least we have this beautiful image.

In June there were dozens of caterpillars on the milkweeds. A number of them pupated where I could find them. Here’s a compendium of the butterflies that emerged — the ones I know about:

This one was near the house on the eave.

This one was near the house on the eave.

On the Evergreen Currant.

On the Evergreen Currant.

This one pupated on the cactus down low, and made a perilous journey up to the top. Its wings are slightly damaged, but it flew off with no difficulty.

This one pupated on the cactus down low, and made a perilous journey up to the top. Its wings are slightly damaged, but it flew off with no difficulty.

This butterfly fell from the wall and injured its wing, as you can see. I put it on this towel and tried to save it, but it was too damaged to fly, and I had to euthanize it.

This butterfly fell from the wall and injured its wing, as you can see. I put it on this towel and tried to save it, but it was too damaged to fly, and I had to euthanize it.

This butterfly flew off successfully.

This butterfly flew off successfully.

On the water pipe.

On the water pipe.

On the crossbar that leads into the entryway.

On the crossbar that leads into the entryway.

Finally, on one of the trellises set up for the purpose of providing a pupating surface for the caterpillars.

Finally, on one of the trellises set up for the purpose of providing a pupating surface for the caterpillars.

There were so many caterpillars last year that they totally decimated the milkweeds. I was afraid they would not survive if any more eggs were laid on them, so I devised a chicken-wire-and-screening set of barriers to keep butterflies out and allow them to grow back:



Then in July a great racket rose up near my house. I recognized the sounds as cries of juvenile Cooper’s Hawks. Some investigation showed that there was a nest in a eucalyptus tree near the end of my street. The young hawks were fledging, taking their maiden flights and emitting cries to keep touch with their mother. One of them landed in the pine tree outside my door:


That was an exciting few days! Soon they all flew off to parts unknown to pursue their lives.

Official Spring Update

March 19, 2014

Yay! Spring is officially here, and the garden is abloom — though not yet completely.

First of all, we had our first poppy a couple of weeks ago:


Since that time, quite a few more have shown up (and we’re not nearly through):



Here’s an overall view of the east side of the yard with its riot of wildflowers. The purple ones in the foreground are lupines, while most the of the ones in the background are Elegant Clarkias:


Last fall I created a small mound near the driveway on the west side using some leftover soil, and sowed some wildflower seeds. None of the seeds seemed to be germinating, even while the seeds from last year’s wildflowers were growing like crazy. I assumed I had done something wrong in sowing the seeds, and basically wrote them off.

But a few weeks ago we had our first serious rain of the winter — a deluge (finally!). And a couple of weeks later, some of the seeds started poking out from the soil!

Here’s the mound — it looks barren:


But a closer look reveals the new growth:


Most of these are small at present, at most about 1/2 high.  But today I noticed the first one had bloomed! It’s a Tidy Tip (Layia platyglossa):


Tidy Tips are new for my garden; I haven’t planted them before. It looks like quite a few are forthcoming. There are some other varieties that are also new, but I’ve forgotten what they are and won’t really know until they bloom!

There’s also this plant with yellow flowers among the Clarkias that I haven’t seen before. I don’t know if it’s one of my new wildflowers or a weed:


We shall see what it turns into!

And recently, the first Farewell to Spring (Clarkia amoena) wildflower appeared (though we are nowhere near the end of spring!). There’s also a Chinese Houses (Collinsia heterophylla) plant on the left:


Here’s a closer view of some of my Lupines (Lupinus succulentus). These are such awesome annuals!


I love this shot of the northeast corner, with its colorful Clarkias and Lupines. There’s a Pozo Blue Sage in there somewhere as well. It’s new as of last fall, so I’m not sure if it will bloom this year or wait until next year.


There have been a few perennials starting to bloom as well. My Saffron Buckwheat (Eriogonum crocatum) has a number of blossoms:


Alongside it, my Bee’s Bliss sage (Salvia ‘Bee’s Bliss’) has produced its first blossom:


My Coral Bells (Heuchera elegans) have started to bloom:


Yet to come: the Cleveland Sages! They are typically somewhat “late blooming”. But when they and the Winifred Gilman sages bloom — look out!

In addition, the Foothill Penstemons (Penstemon heterophyllus) that I planted near the succulent bowl, in an attempt to get a healthier plant than what I had in a different location, have made it all worthwhile. Here they are amongst the lupines:


Close up:


In contrast, here are the Penstemons that are currently growing in the other location, in that northeast corner where I’ve been having so much difficulty:


Not a bloom to be found! There’s something about that location that is problematic to a number of plants.

My Scarlet Buglers (Penstemon centranthifolius), next to the Foothills, are just starting to bloom, but haven’t quite gotten there yet.

We also had our first Douglas Iris blossom about a week ago (Iris douglasiana):


And since that time there’ve been several more:


And my Yankee Point Ceanothus (Ceanothus griseus var. horizaontalis ‘Yankee Point’), behind the Coral Bells, is awash with blossoms:


We also have started the butterfly season! About a week ago I found this caterpillar on one of my milkweeds:


I was really surprised, as I hadn’t known I had any caterpillars, and this one was large. It has since absconded for purposes of pupating, and I have no idea where it’s gone! (I think maybe it’s a Malaysian caterpillar …)

But seeing that caterpillar made me realize that I’d better get some more milkweeds, just in case we get the same influx of egg-laying butterflies we had last year. So I bought four new plants (all the Mexican variety, Asclepias curassavica). These pictures show (1) the new Asceplias curassavica milkweeds, and (2) the native milkweed, Asclepias fascicularis, which, upon the advice of my fellow native gardener Debbie, I cut low to encourage denser growth:




I hope that’s enough for the butterflies!

Speaking of butterflies … I got a couple of shots of this visitor (who also laid a few eggs while she was here):



Finally, here are a few more views of the yard in its current state.





Happy gardening until next time!

Two-month Butterfly Summary

November 20, 2013

Much to my surprise, we have had three more generations of butterflies since the last time I posted. I really thought that the huge 46-caterpillar eruption had exhausted the milkweeds, and that they would not recover in time to be able to support more butterflies … but I was wrong! They “re-leafed” in a matter of a few weeks, quite handsomely.

I’ll go through a fairly brief summary of the new generations.

First generation, late August/early September:

This generation had only 5 or 6 caterpillars, and only 3 of them pupated (that I could find).

The first pupated on the wall:


The second pupated on the wall post:


The third could not seem to find a horizontal surface and settled for hanging off the back of the sign at an angle:


The second butterfly emerged without any problems and flew off routinely:

This is a male.

This is a male.

The first butterfly hatched normally and seemed to also be on its way to a routine maiden flight. I took note of it and went out for coffee.

When I came back, at first I could not see the butterfly, and assumed it had flown off. But then I looked more closely, and discovered it on the ground underneath one of my coffeeberries, entrapped in a spider web! I assume it had fallen off, and run into the spider web while searching for a vertical surface to climb onto. The poor thing was struggling hopelessly. We have had a LOT of spiders this year, for some reason.

My boyfriend Hank and I extracted it from underneath the coffeeberry, and attempted to remove the remnants of the spider web, which were very strong. There was one strand attached to its leg, and I was afraid to try to yank it off, lest the leg come off as well! I ended up cutting it off with nail scissors as close to the leg as possible.

We finally got most of the spider web off, and got the butterfly to cling to a washrag hanging vertically from my bench, where it remained for several hours while its wings dried. However, the wings seemed odd to me — although they appeared normal visually, the hindwing would not stay under the forewing the way it’s supposed to when the butterfly flapped its wings. I was worried that they were damaged.

My fears appeared realized when late in the day it attempted to fly, and did not seem to be able to go more than a few feet, flopping to the ground rather than landing gracefully. It flopped around some on the path:


I considered euthanizing it — but decided to bring it into the house for the evening, in the hope that its wings just needed to mature a bit.

The next morning I took it out into the sun — and to my great relief, it flew off quite normally!

Moral: don’t give up too soon on an apparently wounded butterfly!

The third butterfly, alas, did not survive — it died within the chrysalis, turning black:


My theory is that the hot sun baked the metal of the sign and proved too much for the developing butterfly. We had a major hot spell in September, with temperatures into the 100s for weeks, including uncharacteristic high humidity levels.

Second generation, early October:

This generation, again, had caterpillars in the single digits. Again, only three survived to pupate.

The first one pupated on my Evergreen Currant plant, near the front door:


The second pupated on my Ceanothus on the mound. The chrysalis was so close to the ground that I didn’t think the butterfly would be able to drop down properly, so I raised up the branch and attached it to a stake for the time being:


The third pupated on my Winifred Gilman sage:



When it came time to hatch, this chrysalis went first. Unfortunately, we were having a major windstorm, with sustained winds of 50-60 mph, and gusts of up to 80. They were among the strongest winds I’ve experienced in my 40 years in Southern California! When I came out in the morning to check on the chrysalis, it was open, but the butterfly was nowhere to be seen. I have to assume it was blown away by the wind!

The other two did not hatch until the next day, when the winds had died down (thankfully!). They were fine specimens and flew off normally:

A fine male.

A fine male.

A female.

A female.

Third generation: late October — the “pumpkin” batch:

OK, I really thought that was the last generation, as we’re getting close to the fall rains! Au contraire! The plants revived quickly, and we had a MAJOR caterpillar baby boom:


I counted 24 in this generation, but there were probably more than that.

As you can see in the above picture, these caterpillars decimated the milkweeds — even more, it seemed, than the previous 46. Perhaps the foliage had not come back as strongly. At any rate, at one point there were virtually NO leaves left, and yet very few of the caterpillars had reached maturity. They were leaving the plants, but not to seek pupating spots — instead, they were desperately searching for more milkweeds! I directed some of them to the plants with the most remaining leaves, but eventually there was no place left to move them.

Panicked, I made a quick trip to Armstrong Gardens searching for another milkweed plant, but they were out — as I expected, since they usually don’t carry them except in the spring.

I searched the web to see if there was anything I could do — and found a Monarch forum in (of all places) New Zealand, where Monarchs are apparently very big. I found a thread in which a poster was facing the same problem — he had run out of milkweed leaves. And some respondents were claiming that in a pinch you could feed monarchs chunks of pumpkin, and they would eat it!

They asserted that all the caterpillars would eat the pumpkin, but only the largest would survive to pupate. I decided I had nothing to lose, and since it was October, pumpkin fortunately was not hard to find! Sure enough, they attacked it ravenously:


At one point there must have been 10 -15 caterpillars on the various chunks of pineapple I had laid out.

But although a number seemed big enough to pupate, only three ended up doing so. I’m not sure what happened to the others — some of them died and I found their bodies, but others just seemed to disappear.

Here are where the three ended up:

I had put up two trellises for the caterpillars.

I had put up two trellises for the caterpillars.

I didn’t take pictures of the two other chrysalises, but they were both on the wall, and both butterflies emerged successfully and flew off. One of these, by the way, was a “pumpkin” caterpillar, proving that this is indeed a viable solution:

The pumpkin caterpillar

The pumpkin caterpillar

The one that pupated without pumpkin

The one that pupated without pumpkin

Alas, the chrysalis on the trellis did not make it. It was developing normally, becoming darker and eventually transparent, but for whatever reason it reached the point of emergence in the middle of the night, when we were having a rather cold spell. I think the added moisture in the air at night was what doomed it, probably even more than the temperature. The outside of the chrysalis needs to be brittle and dry in order to break away properly — if it is moist, it seems to become too stretchy. At any rate, the butterfly became “stuck” and did not fall out:


But I was happy that at least I managed to save two of the butterflies.

I don’t think we will have any more butterflies this year!

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!