Tag Archives: Monarch Butterfly

Butterflies and Caterpillars — Oh, My!

Giant Swallowtail Butterfly on Purple Statice Postcards
Giant Swallowtail Butterfly on Purple Statice

This year in my garden, I added more host and nectar plants to the caterpillar and butterfly menu, but I haven’t seen many butterflies.  Maybe I should get outside more — and weed!  I know they visit, because I’ve found plenty of caterpillars on my plants, particularly the bronze fennel.  Sometimes there are dozens of Black Swallowtail (BST) caterpillars on my many fennel plants.

If you click on the photo you can see a tiny black swallowtail caterpillar on the far fennel stem in the front pot. It kind of looks like bird shit. That’s what the two large caterpillars looked like a week earlier when I gave the potted fennel to J and V. The baby was just an egg. My brother emailed me this photo to show me how voracious these critters are. Hopefully, they can supplement the menu with parsley.

I gave several potted bronze fennel plants to my brother “J” and his wife “V”.  The fennel plants I gave them were hosting some tiny BST caterpillars.  But BST caterpillars don’t stay tiny for long.   My brother emailed me a week later, saying they had “caterpillar overload” and wanted to know what else to feed the ravenous, voracious caterpillars.  He and V were afraid the caterpillars would starve.  The caterpillars had almost eaten the potted fennel to the dirt.  I suggested they buy parsley at the store, put it in water and hope the caterpillars don’t mind the change in menu.  V, a special education teacher for preschoolers, said her students are enthralled every year when they raise Monarch caterpillars, which require milkweed to eat.

A Monarch Butterfly caterpillar eats a swamp milkweed leaf in my garden.

BST caterpillars must eat members of the dill family, such as dill, parsley and fennel. (It’s amazing that’s all they need to eat.  Imagine just living and thriving on garnish!)  This fall, I’ll pot more fennel to give to friends to plant to attract more BST butterflies.  As development spreads,  there are fewer wild areas for butterflies and caterpillars to flourish, so we need to help them along by providing food and habitat.  Bronze fennel will seed itself and is a perennial, so it’s a great caterpillar host plant.  It does get tall and wide, though, so you need a large sunny spot for it in the back of your flower bed.

This summer, I saw many butterflies at Pendleton’s Country Market, which I visited with my daughter and her fiance to choose flowers for their September wedding.  The top photograph is from our visit to the fields.   The Pendletons grow plants for butterflies and their caterpillars in addition to flowers for cutting.  They also have a butterfly house you can visit.

Black Swallowtail Butterfly on Coneflower Postcard

From Jim Lovett of Monarch Watch: Greetings Monarch Watchers!

Here’s brief update to kick off the 2010 Monarch Migration/Tagging Season…

—————————————-
Status of the Population
—————————————-
The 2009-2010 overwintering monarch population in Mexico covered a forest area of only 1.92 hectares. This figure represents an all time low for overwintering monarchs and is well below the long-term average of 7.44 hectares (1994-2010). We worried about these low numbers because of the possibility that a devastating storm could drive the population even lower. And then it happened — a storm of the worst possible dimensions hit the overwintering area starting on February 2. Accounts of the flooding and landslides can be found on the Monarch Watch Blog at

http://monarchwatch.org/blog/category/mexico/

Attempts to find out how the monarchs fared following these winter storms were unsatisfactory. We estimated that at least 50% of the monarchs died during the winter months, recognizing that this value could have been low.

Fortunately, the conditions encountered by the monarchs that reached Texas were favorable. The result, in spite of the low number of returning monarchs, was a substantial first generation. These butterflies colonized much of the northern breeding area from late April to mid-June.

It appears thmonarchs are making a modest recovery and we expect the overwintering population will measure close to 3 hectares.

For a more detailed status and updates throughout the season please visit the Monarch Watch Blog at http://monarchwatch.org/blog/ at the

—————————————-
Monarch Tagging Kits
—————————————-
We have begun shipping out tagging kits for the 2010 monarch butterfly tagging season – all of those ordered from January-June this year are on their way and those ordered last month should go out this week. New orders should be turned around within a week so if you haven’t ordered tags yet there is still time. :-)

You can find all of the information about ordering tags, downloading additional data sheets, and our tagging program in general at

http://monarchwatch.org/tagging

—————————————-
Chip in For Monarch Watch
—————————————-
Last year was our first “Chip in for Monarch Watch” fundraising campaign – a chance for Monarch Watchers, colleagues, friends, and family across the planet to show their support of Monarch Watch and its director Chip Taylor who brought the program to life nearly two decades ago.

By the end of the campaign, more than $23,000 was contributed by nearly 500 donors – wow! These funds put us in the best financial position we have ever been in heading into the winter season.

Many of you asked if we would be making this an annual fundraising campaign and we think that is a great idea! Although we accept donations at any time (http://monarchwatch.org/donate/), this formal effort will be a yearly reminder to renew your support and give you the opportunity to share your monarch stories or other comments with us. If you haven’t viewed the comments and photos submitted last year, we encourage you to do so – the connections facilitated by monarchs and Monarch Watch are truly extraordinary.

The 2010 “Chip in for Monarch Watch” campaign will run through the entire month of August – if you enjoy and/or appreciate all that Monarch Watch offers throughout the year, please consider making a donation today…it’s quick, easy, secure, and fully tax-deductible. As you may know, we rely on these contributions to allow us to continue to offer educational, conservation, and research programs and resources.

Donations to Monarch Watch are managed via the KU Endowment Association (KUEA) here at the University of Kansas and 100% of your donation will go to Monarch Watch – none of it will be used for KUEA operating expenses. Donations may be made by phone, online, or by mail and you can easily set up a monthly or annual gift. Also, many employers offer matching programs, effectively doubling your gift.

Please take some time to visit our “Chip in for Monarch Watch” page and pledge your support before the end of the month. If you have any questions about this campaign please feel free to drop us a line anytime!

Chip in for Monarch Watch 2010: http://monarchwatch.org/chip

4 Comments

Filed under Butterflies, Education, Entomology, Environment, Family, Gardening, Insects, Kansas, Life, Natural History, Nature, Photography, University of Kansas

Survivor — Caterpillar Version

My garden is full tasty plants to tempt butterflies to lay their eggs.  Finally, a black swallowtail butterfly slipped in and laid a few eggs on a bronze fennel.  I've been following their progress since before the caterpillars hatched, fretting over these gorgeous creatures and wondering how much I should interfere to keep away crab spiders, dragonflies and other predators.

My garden is full of tasty plants to tempt butterflies to lay their eggs. Finally, a black swallowtail butterfly slipped in and laid a few eggs on a bronze fennel. I've been following their progress since before the caterpillars hatched, fretting over these gorgeous creatures and wondering how much I should interfere to keep away crab spiders, dragonflies and other predators.

If you plant it, will they come?  Over the past two years, I’ve planted many kinds of coneflowers and milkweed.  I’ve planted bronze fennel, parsley, bee balm, butterfly bush, autumn sedum and more.  It’s a buffet for Black Swallowtail and Monarch butterflies and others.  But where are they?  I’m not getting much business.  Friends say that the butterflies will come, but it seems a slow year. Maybe a watched garden never produces.  Everything is lush and green, the flowers are blooming, come and get it!

I jumpstarted the process in May when I bought a Monarch caterpillar at the Monarch Watch open house in Lawrence, Kansas, where I also bought three kinds of milkweed.    “Reggie” (from the Latin rex, regis,  for king, a monarch…yes, it’s corny) chewed away for a day and then disappeared.  I hope he successfully moved on to pupation.

A month later in June, I found another Monarch caterpillar, one I didn’t have to buy.  I was thrilled, even though he was voraciously chewing up the one-month planted milkweed, leaving only a stem. I did plant milkweed just for the caterpillars to eat, but do they have to eat so much!  He was almost ready to pupate when I discovered him, and he had the appetite of a teenager!  I said:  “Hey, leave some milkweed for the others!”  Soon, the caterpillar was gone, hopefully moving on to the next stage and not in the craw of a robin.  The milkweed struggled, but finally a few new shoots appeared, and then it began to flourish.  Apparently, milkweeds “know” how to cope.

A Monarch butterfly flitted in and briefly landed on several milkweed plants.  Later, I discovered many eggs, each one laid on the underside of a leaf of different plants.  I watched the progress as the eggs hatched.  Here are two very small caterpillars from July 15, 2009.  Today (July 16) when I checked I couldn't find any caterpillars, so I don't know whether they were hiding or had fallen prey to other creatures.  It's a dangerous world out there!

A Monarch butterfly flitted in and briefly landed on several milkweed plants. Later, I discovered many eggs, each one laid on the underside of a leaf of different plants. I watched the progress as the eggs hatched. Here are two very small caterpillars from July 15, 2009. Today (July 16) when I checked found only one caterpillar, so I don't know whether the other was hiding or had fallen prey to other creatures. It's a dangerous world out there!

Since then, I’ve found eggs on the under side of  the leaves of three of my milkweeds, wondering how they could all support so many caterpillars. Well, I didn’t have to worry about that, because most didn’t survive.   Most seemed to hatch, leaving a tiny hole in the leaf where they were laid, but each day there are fewer and fewer caterpillars.  Will any survive to adulthood? 

The irony is that decades ago when I wasn’t even aware of this wonderful world of caterpillars, I found seven black swallowtail caterpillars on some parsley in my garden. I didn’t know what they were.  I was so horrifed, because I had this revulsion to creepy crawlie things, that I clipped off the “infested” stems and threw them all in the trash. Now, I’d think I’d won the lottery if I found so many BST caterpillars. (OK, maybe I’m exaggerating…)  I’ve regretted that act of destruction ever since.  And who even needs parsley! 

Now I hover over “my” caterpillars, wondering how much I should interfere.  Should I chase away the crab spiders and dragon flies?

For more information about growing plants for caterpillars and butterflies go to Monarch Watch.  To read about J. G.’s beautiful garden, which is a Monarch Waystation, go to my post: Life and Death in the Garden.  For my story on the Monarch Watch Spring 2009  Open House, click here.  Click on the title of the posts, and the stories with photographs will pop up.  Use my search box to find my other stories about butterflies and caterpillars.

I didn't discover this Monarch caterpillar until it was almost ready to pupate.  It ate the leaves of this milkweed so quickly and voraciously that it left only a stem.  I thought: Hey, leave some for the other guys!  I didn't think the milkweed, which I had recently planted, would survive, but it slowly recovered and grew new shoots, ready for the next batch of hatchlings.

I didn't discover this Monarch caterpillar until it was almost ready to pupate. It ate the leaves of this milkweed so quickly and voraciously that it left only a stem. I thought: Hey, leave some for the other guys! I didn't think the milkweed, which I had recently planted, would survive, but it slowly recovered and grew new shoots, ready for the next batch of hatchlings.

2 Comments

Filed under Animals, Butterflies, Entomology, Environment, Gardening, Insects, Kansas, Kansas City, Life, Natural History, Nature, Personal, Photography, Science

Life and Death in the Garden

 
A crab spider grabs a honeybee that has visited a common milkweed flower.
A crab spider grabbed a honey bee that visited a common milkweed flower.
This honey bee was lucky it didn't encounter any crab spiders hiding in the milkweed flowers.

This honey bee was lucky it didn't encounter any crab spiders hiding in the milkweed flowers.

In the Midwest, Master Gardener J. G. has planted a complete banquet for pollinating insects, such as bees and butterflies.   There are plants for all stages in an insect’s life.  One section of her garden is devoted to native prairie plants, such as the common milkweed, which has a wonderful fragrance and beautiful flowers.  Monarch caterpillars are dependent on milkweed leaves and flowers for food, and other insects drink the nectar.  The garden is a certified Monarch Watch monarch butterfly waystation that provides milkweed, nectar sources and shelter for monarchs as they migrate through North America.

Monarch Butterfly Waystation.

J. G.'s garden is a certified Monarch Butterfly Waystation that provides plants for nectar, milkweed and shelter for migrating Monarch butterflies.

Honey bees were busy getting nectar and pollen in the milkweed flowers when we toured J.G.’s garden.  One honey bee wasn’t so lucky.   A crab spider grabbed it and paralyzed it for its own dinner.  Crab spiders don’t spin webs but hide on plants, waiting for prey to visit.

It was a hot, humid day, and few butterflies appeared.  J.G. called out the names of the few that passed through — fritillary, painted lady, skipper.  I recognized a Monarch butterfly that flitted over the milkweed, settling just for a moment, before leaving.

To learn more about butterflies in the Kansas City area click on this links and do a search on butterflies: Johnson County Extension Office.    Other useful links: Monarch Watch and look for Bug Girl’s Blog, Anna’s Bee World and Pollinator Partnership in  my blog roll. If you’re buying from Amazon.com, use the Monarch Watch portal on my blogroll.  I’ll be posting more about J.G’s garden, including her leaf cutter bee boxes.

A honey bee visits a rose blossom.  You can see how closely these wild roses resemble apple blossoms, members of the same family.

A honey bee visits a rose blossom. You can see how closely these wild-looking roses resemble apple blossoms, members of the same family.

3 Comments

Filed under Biology, Butterflies, Conservation, Education, Entomology, Environment, Gardening, Insects, Kansas, Life, Natural History, Nature, Personal, Photography, Science, University of Kansas