Discovering Nature

Category: Butterflies & Moths (page 1 of 3)

Polyphemus Moth

Polyphemus 1This is actually a picture from back in June that I didn’t get around to posting then. I saw it as I pulled into a grocery store parking lot one morning, sunning itself on the pavement in the exact center of the entry ramp. I stopped the car and got out. With encouragement from a man in a pickup truck who stopped to see what I was looking at, I let it walk onto my finger.

We kept it in an aquarium for a day as it slept. Polyphemus moths live only a few days and don’t eat — don’t even have mouths! But when evening came it was ready to FLY. Hopefully it lived the rest of its short life to the fullest.

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polyphemus

Even Better than Monarchs in the House

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When I took a picture of this trail in the spring, I never would have guessed that it would bless me with a wonder in the fall:  my first ever glimpse of a chrysalis in the wild.

First ever

I was so excited I came back later with my daughter, and we discovered another… sadly, it had been robbed. Monarchs are poisonous to birds, so the culprit must have regretted it. Robbed

But our spirits lifted at the sight of another. Ultimately we saw eight healthy ones!

#2

#2

#3 & #4

#3 & #4

#6

#5

#7

#6

#8

#7

#9

#8

Not a single one was on a milkweed plant. Several chose goldenrod; #8 was on a stalk fallen nearly flat across the trail, and must have been that way almost the whole time. A few chose other plants that I didn’t recognize. One — #7 — chose a stalk of grass!

Several of them looked ready to hatch, so after lunch I went back. #5 had hatched!

#6 emerged

#5 emerged

I had been a little worried about #7. Rain was predicted, and that stalk of grass looked so fragile… But the chrysalis was looking ready to pop, so I set up my tripod to try and video its emergence. Amazingly, it came out just as a very gentle shower began.

#8 Emerged

#7 Emerged

Growing

Growing

Hanging around

Hanging around

Larger still

Larger still

Wings ready

Wings almost ready

I did video its emergence, and it’s amazing to watch! If I figure out how to make the file smaller I’ll post it. But these pictures tell the story of transformation.

It was a gift. I’ve looked before for chrysalises, but this is the first time I’ve ever seen any in the great outdoors, and it was a jackpot sighting. I woke this morning heavy-hearted over various things going on in our often messed up and confusing world, but this was a glimpse of something working marvelously right.

Latest Monarchs

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Only two chrysalises left. Today’s hatchling was the first to be greeted by a cool, rainy day. I hope he will make out all right!

Yesterday’s fluttered immediately up into a tall tree and spent the day there.

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So far we’ve had 5 males and a female.

 

Ted

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Caterpillar #2 took flight yesterday. Adios, friend!

Metamorphosis

It’s an amazing thing to watch this process of caterpillar to butterfly. First they’re tiny…

Even little ones need to hide now and then...

Even little ones need to hide now and then…

...snug as a bug in a rug.

…snug as a bug in a rug.

They eat, sleep, shed several times, and grow restless for the heights…

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Mirror, mirror on the wall

Caterpillar Pilates

Caterpillar Pilates

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…then fasten themselves to a good, secure spot.

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Next comes the most amazing part. As a child when we did this, I never saw the chrysalis formation happen. I pictured the process as being similar to the moth that spins a cocoon around itself. But the chrysalis is within the caterpillar, waiting to neatly trim away all the stuff the butterfly will no longer need.

Monarch Metamorphosis from Snaphappy on Vimeo.

It takes perhaps a half an hour before the process is really complete.

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The old skin, discarded, lies on the ground beneath the finished chrysalis. Now it’s a matter of waiting for a week or 10 days till a butterfly emerges. We have 4 chrysalises and 4 caterpillars at the moment. Hopefully all 8 will emerge as healthy butterflies ready for their trip to Mexico.

Stages

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Things are looking up around here. At least, caterpillars are. Two of our now seven monarchs have made their silk buttons and dropped into their J’s. I hope I’ll be able to see the chrysalis form for at least one of them. We have one more big guy that I picked up today, thinking he’d climb right up to the ceiling with these two and follow suit, but so far he’s munching with great dedication on the milkweed, occasionally pausing mid-bite for a nap.

Still, it won’t be long. I won’t have to worry about supplying fresh milkweed for him for long.

Not the case with this one.

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What can I say? I was ready to stop collecting caterpillars, but Younger Daughter was along and felt otherwise. So we have the three big guys, two medium-sized ones with a couple of instars left before they’re ready for chrysalises, and now two tiny ones.

At least they grow quickly!

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I think it may give them a better chance to be safe in the aquarium while they’re in the chrysalis state. But I have mixed feelings. Life in the wild looks pretty good too: soaking up the sun and the breezes, eating and napping.

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I know monarchs are poisonous to birds, but I’m not sure if other predators eat them: spiders, frogs, milkweed beetles. Maybe the tiny ones have a better chance if we help them out too.

In any case, it’s encouraging to see so many of them this year!

New caterpillar

Checking for monarch caterpillars, we discovered an unfamiliar one munching on goldenrod:

Brown hooded owlet

Brown hooded owlet

I snapped the picture with my phone, then came home and searched my caterpillar guide and the internet to identify it. The moth is quite drab, but the caterpillar is bright and active. Other than that, I haven’t been able to unearth much information about it.

A friend for Ted

IMG_2830My husband told us to bring home a big caterpillar to keep Ted company — so we wouldn’t have to maintain a fresh milkweed supply for long. Older Daughter and I brought home the biggest one we could find — about .5 cm long!

But no worries. They grow incredibly quickly!

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Monarch of the Kitchen

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We named this monarch caterpillar Ted. I’ve been wanting to find one (or more) to observe the process of caterpillar-to-butterfly again; we didn’t do it last year, but for several years prior to that we did.

The biggest monarch extravaganza was in 2011, when we shepherded about 20 monarchs to butterflyhood. I wrote about it on my other blog in this series of posts. I was embarrassed at the time, recognizing how excessive that was — but then in September our area was hit by a massive flood that completely covered the valley where we’d found all the caterpillars. We saved 20 of them, at least. And we had a blast!

This year I definitely envision a smaller operation! But if we should find a friend or two for Ted in this short period of feeding on milkweed, sleeping, and growing by leaps and bounds before making a chrysalis, we certainly have the room. (Edited to add: we added one more, pictured here.)

Meantime, sweet dreams, future butterfly.

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