Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Tuesday Slice: Birthing butterflies, part two

Two weekends ago, I was fortunate to watch the "birth" of six butterflies over a three-day period.  They started off as caterpillars, eating away at my potted milkweed on the back porch.  This is the last installment of my experience as a butterfly "mom".

The second monarch emerged outside, not long after I took my makeshift chrysalis box to the back porch to allow the first monarch and second queen to finish strengthening their wings to fly.

I sat on the porch for a long while, waiting for wings to dry and get strong, hoping to keep the birds away.

After a couple of hours, the monarch was ready--and away, flying first to the north, then circling back to our tree.

Four down, two to go!

While checking on the remaining two chrysalises Sunday morning, I noticed one was getting close to emerging.  

I was worried about the last chrysalis.  It was evident that it hadn't formed properly, and I really didn't expect it to complete metamorphosis.

The third monarch emerged indoors.  I now knew that it took several hours for the wings to unfold and strengthen, so I wasn't in such a hurry to get it outside.

After my coffee and usual Sunday t.v. time, I headed once more to the back porch to expose the butterfly to fresh air, sunlight, and open sky.

Keeping watch on the last chrysalis, I was surprised to see the stripes and spots so clearly; maybe it would be okay!

The third monarch surprised me by crossing the wire to the opposite side of the box, before climbing to the edge and flying off!

By Sunday night, it was evident that the last chrysalis would be emerging the next day, so I fashioned a new box in case I had to take it to my work meeting.  

The next morning, I loaded my car with work necessities first, then came back inside to check on the chrysalis one more time before moving the box to my car.  It was already emerging!  Luckily, my husband had taken the day off from work, and he took over the duty of watching it and moving the box outside.

Everything seemed to go smoothly, until it left the box.  That's when my husband noticed it wasn't flying well.

Closer inspection revealed that the left wings weren't working together.  The incomplete chrysalis must have caused the problem.

We left the butterfly to flutter outside, moving it every so often to a stable resting place.  By dusk, it was gone.  I'd like to think it made it's way to the tree and climbed up...

Five out of six chrysalises fully formed and flew away; not bad for a first time butterfly breeder!

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Tuesday Slice: Birthing butterflies

And now for the continuation of last week's post on raising butterflies...

When last we saw our intrepid metamorphosing insects, they were hanging out in the laundry room, green chrysalises sporting beautiful gold metallic dots and lines.

One of the smallest chrysalises began to darken, and turned a solid black hue by last Thursday.  Reading up on the care of butterflies, it seemed I may have lost this one.  Saddened, I went to work, and came home to this:

Still thinking the caterpillar hadn't made it, I thought the chrysalis had simply burst, and the brown spot below it was goo from the remains....Until a shout came from my husband Saturday morning.  "Butterfly in the dining room!"

Between the two of us, we rescued it from our carpet and got it outside--our first queen! 

It fluttered about near the ground, and wouldn't fly; it kept nosediving into the grass, despite attempts to move it upright on sturdier ground.  I worried it had been damaged in its escape from the net-covered box in laundry room.  Later, my husband felt bad for the poor thing, and decided to move it to the flower bed as a final resting place.  In his hand, it walked to the tip of his fingers, and flew to the tree!

Meanwhile, my teenager, husband, and I witnessed the eclosing of the second chrysalis--a monarch!--standing in awe over the box on the washing machine. (Pardon the color; I took the picture through red netting.)

It wasn't long before a third butterfly, another queen, emerged!  In between "hatchings", I watched a video from a research center and learned that the brown "goo" was actually meconium, the remains of the fluid the butterflies pump into the veins on their wings to unfurl and strengthen them.

Not wanting a replay of our "firstborn", I carried the box outside and watched over the monarch and queen as they hung out, drying and strengthening their wings for flight.  It was exciting when they finally started flapping, first slowly, then faster, letting go of their husks.  A tilt of the box to help them climb to the edge, and they were off!

Three new butterflies to brighten the world!  I'll cover the last three butterflies in the next blog post.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Tuesday Slice: Wings to fly

My school year began with a dress of butterflies, so maybe it was a divine wink that sent monarch and queen caterpillars my way a few weeks ago.

This was actually the second round of caterpillars that hatched on my potted milkweed on the back porch.  The first set, all queens, presumably got eaten by birds while I wasn't looking.  I was sad, but too busy dealing with the aphids that followed to dwell on their demise.  I (mistakenly, I found out later) chopped back the milkweed to get rid of the aphids, and forgot about my aspirations of butterfly nurturing for the season.

My husband needed help moving the patio furniture three weekends ago.  There were a few new leaves sprouting from the stubby milkweed stems.  Lo and behold, more than a dozen caterpillars were munching away--and this time, there were monarchs in the bunch!

I hurriedly concocted a shield of sorts from two chairs and a frost cover, in hopes of keeping the birds at bay.  The sparse leaves were rapidly being eaten, so I visited the local nursery to purchase a healthier milkweed plant, and spent the better part of a Sunday afternoon carefully transferring my charges to their new buffet.

Each morning and afternoon, I checked on my "children", as my husband was now calling my crawlers.  Sixteen caterpillars dwindled to ten, and ten to six, before I decided to intervene by collecting them in a jar. 

Within days, they started hanging in a J-formation, and turned into chrysalises within twenty-four hours--the first four in unison, and then the last two, after a few more leaves and molts.

The jar was getting moldy from the frass (caterpillar poop), so I had to relocate the chrysalises to my crudely made butterfly-hatching box.  Thank goodness for the internet, as I wouldn't have known how to extricate the two that were attached to the glass.

And now, we just wait!  It could be another week before we see the chrysalises darken and the telltale stripes and spots appear.  Fingers crossed that I've done a good job "parenting" my caterpillars, and they all get their wings to fly soon!