Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Monarchs have finally returned!!!

I was wandering around my yard the other night, working in my gardens and noticed a wonderful surprise ~ a monarch was feeding on my butterfly bush!  I have only seen two males so far and am hoping there are some females close by to start laying eggs on my butterfly weed and milkweed. 

They love that butterfly bush but the also enjoyed some lantana!

I am anxious to rear some 4th generation monarchs ~ these will hatch towards the end of August and later. These are the ones who will migrate to Mexico for the winter.  I tagged a few last year with some tags I received at a Monarch tagging in my town.  I had my garden certified as a Monarch Way Station, so I will have my own tags to use this year!
My tags should arrive in about a week!
Plant some milkweed or butterfly weed in your garden ~ don't let these beautiful butterflies die out!

Happy to see more hummingbirds!

I am so excited that I have a female hummingbird now!  Up until about a month ago, I have only seen two males.  She has been very hard to get a clear photo of until recently.  She and one of the males were playing all day in my gardens.  I purposely wore a red top today, hoping that they would let me get a little closer to them.  It worked ~ Here are some photos of my female rubythroated hummingbird!

Hope you enjoyed the photos!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Black Swallowtail rearing ~

I recently acquired some Black Swallowtail caterpillars; some from a friend and the others from my herb garden.  I planted the herb garden to attract these butterflies!  It surely has been an interesting learning experience.  I placed the caterpillars in a critter keeper with  paper towels on the bottom and used recycled watering tubes to keep the herbs fresh for them.  Black Swallowtails' host plants are: fennel, dill, parsley, and Queen Ann's Lace.  I also placed two long sticks in the container for them to crawl on.
I found quite a few eggs on the fennel in my garden and many first instars.  The caterpillars go through 5 stages before they are ready to make their chrysalis.  The eggs are tiny and yellow ~  

Once the eggs hatch, the first instar looks like bird droppings to disguise them from predators.

The next instar is a little more colorful.

Third instar ~

Fourth instar ~

and the final instar ~ is the larger one at the bottom of the photo above.

Once the cat is fully grown, it will attach itself to either a stick, a plant, the top of the cage or even the side of the cage.  Before it does this, it will eliminate a greenish, yellow liquid and it's bowels.  The first time I saw that, I thought something was wrong ~ which it can be ~ if the cats were poisoned by something.   *word of advice ~ if using purchased parsley...wash it first, in case it was sprayed with an insecticide.

 These two decided to hang out together~

 The cats will form different colored chrysalis' depending on what they are attached to.
The brown chrysalis formed on the brown stick and the green on the green. 
*those are the only two colors

Well, I have had 12 of 13 cats go to chrysalis and the last one is getting ready and I have had 4 butterflies hatch already!  They have been all females! 
Here are a few more photos ~
Synchronized chrysalises !

 The little orange orange "forked gland", called the osmeterium comes out when the cat feels threatened.
It puts out quite a smelly odor ~ it's neat to see though.

This is what a cat looks like just before shedding it's skin to form the chrysalis ~ I have yet to see the shedding of the skin.  I'm always just a minute too late.  Here are a few shots during the process ~

Here are a few photos just after hatching ~ again... I'm alway a minute too late for the 1st step ~

 The wingscome out all cringled ~ the butterfly pumps fluid from it's abdomen into them to "inflate" them.
Notice the empty chrysalis in the background.

After about two hours I release them.  So far, I have had 4 females hatch, 3 of them flew off immediately but this one wasn't quite ready to go.  She hang out on my butterfly bush for an hour or so before taking off.

This one wasn't quite ready to take off.  She hung out on my butterfly bush for an hour or so, before flying off.


Four down, nine to go ~
It's funny that so far they have all been females ~
I have six sisters !!!

Bye for now~

Just a quick update ~ I was up to 7 females and 1 male, and had to leave for vacation.  I took the remaining chrysalis' over to the little neighbor girl to release when they hatched and there was 1 left on a stick, so I just stuck that in the ground before I left.  They all hatched, but 2 of the butterflies couldn't fully open their wings and didn't make it :(  All in all, it was a great experience, and I will definitely do it again next year!