The Cycle Begins

Over the last few weeks more than ten of the anise swallowtail butterfly chrysalises that we’ve been sheltering in our butterfly nursery have emerged. These three beauties emerged in one day. We waited for the weather to improve, and took them out to the deck to release them. You can also see two batches of chrysalises still waiting to emerge. For some reason, possibly protection, they sometimes make their chrysalises right next to or on top of one another.

DSC_3545b small flat

Anise swallowtails can remain in the chrysalis stage for years, and some of the ones that emerged have been gestating for more than two years. Every time we release a female I ask her to come back to our garden to lay eggs.

Anise swallowtail butterfly on George's hand

The native plant that anise swallowtails lay their eggs on is called yampah. George has some yampah in a pot, but it grows very slowly. A couple of years ago we were thrilled to find some eggs in our yampah. Here’s a picture I took. The egg is the tiny yellow dot near the center of the picture.  It’s about the size of the head of a pin.

Since yampah is very hard to find in the wild around us (not much wild left hereabouts  …), the anise swallowtails in our area have turned to the fennel plant to lay their eggs and as their larval food source. Fennel grows prolifically in vacant lots and along the highways. Many people cut it down as it gets rangy later in the summer, which is too bad, because they’re killing hundreds of swallowtail eggs and caterpillars. Anyway, to the point of this post .. drum roll please … I found three eggs on our fennel this morning! Here’s one.

Anise swallowtail butterfly egg on fennel

We released this female last Tuesday, maybe they are her eggs?

Anise swallowtail butterfly

Have you seen many butterflies in your garden yet? Do you plant milkweed for monarchs or other plants to attract and feed butterflies?

Ladybug Ladybug

I’ve told you before that George and I rescue the anise swallowtail caterpillars and eggs that we find on fennel plants. The fennel gets rangy this time of year and many people cut it down, not knowing that they’re killing caterpillars. We bring the eggs and caterpillars inside, feed them fennel until they pupate into chrysalises, then release them after they emerge as adult butterflies. I rescued a large caterpillar and five eggs the other day from a parking lot in Berkeley, and the eggs have now all opened. This one is about 2 mm long.

Anise swallowtail butterfly caterpillar

Today while searching some fennel near our house I found another insect – ladybugs – happily wandering around the fennel flowers, probably looking for aphids to feed on. Here’s one with a few of the characteristic black spots, and very intense red-orange color.

Ladybug on fennel

Another one’s spots were barely visible, and its color was much less red.

Ladybug on fennel

This one was moving from one flower to another.

Ladybug on fennelSome of the flowers had several ladybugs.

Ladybugs on fennel flowers

Does fennel grow on your property? Please make sure to check for butterfly eggs and caterpillars, and for other helpful insects like ladybugs, before you cut it down.

Anise Swallowtail Butterfly bonanza

It’s a banner year for anise swallowtail butterflies, at least in our garden! A few weeks ago we saw a butterfly fluttering around the fennel plant in the back garden, and sure enough we found 13 eggs. We brought them all in and they’ve started to emerge.

Anise swallowtail caterpillar newly emerged from its chrysalis

We’ve also had some chrysalises incubating for a year or more, and some of them finally decided to emerge as well. Three of the butterflies came out yesterday and four today.

Anise swallowtail butterfly newly emergedWe check the fennel periodically for eggs and babies, and usually find them when they’re small, but this caterpillar eluded us until he had gotten quite large.

Anise swallowtail caterpillar on fennelThis is an extreme closeup, he’s actually a bit over an inch long. Anise swallowtail butterflies, in our area, mostly use fennel for their larval host. It’s plentiful and grows much more easily than the native host, yampah. The problem is that people often cut it down because it gets so large and rangy. Now that you know the beautiful butterflies that rely on the plant, please don’t cut it down until the end of the summer! Want to learn how to raise the butterflies yourself? Drop me an email and I’ll explain how-  HeidiRand@gmail.com

Anise swallowtail butterfly in the garden

And so it begins…. You may not know that my wonderful husband George is a vastly talented actor, when he’s not being an amazing gardener and naturalist. He often works at night, doing performances or taking part in improv murder mysteries.  That’s not an ad for him (well maybe a little), but an explanation why he’s often lucky enough to be out in the garden during the day when something wonderful happens.

Like today, when he saw an anise swallowtail butterfly swoop over the fennel and lay an egg. He didn’t get a photo of her, but here is my photo of one that we raised last year – I like to think it might be her, returning to leave her babies.

Swallowtail on butterfly bush

He found the egg, but left it there for me to find when I got home. We really had to search, the wind had blown the fennel fronds around and it was hidden. But finally he saw the tiny jewel.

Anise swallowtail butterfly egg

This is an extreme closeup, it’s the size of the head of a pin!

Anise swallowtail butterfly egg - closeupWe brought it inside so it won’t fall prey to the weather or another menace. We’ll  feed the caterpillar and protect the chrysalis until the butterfly emerges, and then we’ll release it, to start the cycle over. If you haven’t yet seen my photos of the life cycle of the anise swallowtail butterfly, and of the life cycle of the monarch butterfly, click here to get to my smugmug photo gallery.  Pull down and click on the links for the two sets of photographs.

Oh, and a plea – if you have fennel in your yard, please please don’t cut it down until the fall. If you’re in the El Cerrito area and you must cut it, contact us and we’ll rescue the eggs and caterpillars that are sure to be hiding in it.

Monarch Butterfly Emerges

The first monarch butterfly of the batch of eggs that we found on the milkweed in our garden has emerged! Picking up where my last blog post, Monarch caterpillar to chrysalis, left off – this is how the chrysalises have looked for the past few weeks:

The first one to form a chrysalis started to darken yesterday. Actually it looks dark, but what’s happening is that the chrysalis is becoming transparent, so you can see the butterfly inside. Soon you can see the pattern and color of the wings.

3:32 p.m.

I took the photo above around 3:30.  I was running upstairs every so often to check, but I finally just settled down next to the butterfly house with a book. I looked up at about 4:15 and saw that the chrysalis was cracked!

4:17 p.m.

The butterfly holds onto the chrysalis with its legs – the wings and body drop out.

The picture above shows the abdomen hanging down. The abdomen is filled with fluid that the butterfly uses to inflate its wings.

The wings are filling and lengthening.

This is an extreme closeup showing the curled proboscis, and the legs holding onto the chrysalis.

4:20 p.m.

The forewings are now showing (peeking out from under the hindwing at the bottom right).

The forewings continue to lengthen.

Some more…

Just a bit more…

4:37 p.m.

And finally, about a half hour after the butterfly began to emerge, it’s in its final form. It continues to hang, letting its wings dry and harden. Soon we’ll release the butterfly, to continue the cycle!

These are my other posts about the monarch who laid the eggs, the caterpillars, and the chrysalis:

Monarch in the Garden

Monarch Eggs in the Garden!

First Monarch Caterpillar Emerges

Monarch Caterpillar to Chrysalis

Monarch caterpillar to chrysalis

If you’ve seen my earlier posts (I list them at the bottom for you, with links), you know that a monarch butterfly visited our garden and left several eggs on our milkweed.  We brought the eggs in and when the caterpillars emerged, we fed them. I haven’t posted many photos of the caterpillars – but I promise I’ll do a blog post about them. For now, I’m too excited and want to show you what happens when a caterpillar pupates. We’ve had several do so already, and I couldn’t get photos of them, so I was glad to see that this fellow –

was right in front of the cage, and looking for a spot to form his “J” -that’s when they attach themselves securely to a surface so they can hang down and pupate.

He hung like that for several hours, then all of a sudden I noticed that he had straightened out.

He was starting to transform! His larval skin split, starting at his head – which is at the bottom.

The skin kept splitting higher.

Finally the larval skin was all crumpled at the top. It fell off a second after I took this photo.

The chrysalid twists and turns violently during the entire process, which is one reason some of the photos are not completely in focus.

After the skin fell off, he twisted and turned a bit more. He will contract in size, and the outer surface of the chrysalis will smooth out. The time from when he relaxed down from the “J” until I took the last photo was only 9 minutes!  I don’t have a photo of him in his final chrysalis form, but this is one of the others that turned yesterday:

I feel so lucky to be able to experience this miracle firsthand, I hope you enjoyed the photos!

These are my other posts about the monarch who laid the eggs, and the caterpillars:

Monarch in the Garden

Monarch Eggs in the Garden!

First Monarch Caterpillar Emerges

Butterflies & Barbie at the Albany Library

Together again for the first time! Christina Van Horn, creator of the amazing Barbie Display – last spotted in October in the El Cerrito Library display case, and I with an expanded version of the butterfly display I had there in June, have teamed up and taken our combined show on the road – actually just a few miles down San Pablo Avenue to the Albany Library.

Barbie and Butterflies

Barbie and Butterflies at the Albany Library

Christina’s “Say Hello to Barbie!” is a loving tribute to an icon, a playful and creative reminder for us to reach back to that part of ourselves that we may have packed away when we put our toys and dolls aside. The power of Barbie to evoke emotions was evident when several people stopped to share their memories of the dolls as we were putting the display up.

Say Hello to Barbie!

Say Hello to Barbie!

Christina has dressed and accessorized seven Barbies from a range of years. The variety of the garments in which Christina chose to dress the Barbies is amazing. And check out the great hairstyles! Christina even constructed and sewed the sumptuous bed and bedding in which ‘middle-aged’ Barbie lies, reading. She also describes Barbie’s history, and discusses her impact, including citing controversies, which, she notes, often involve parodies of Barbie and her ‘lifestyles.’

Butterflies in Your Garden

Butterflies in Your Garden

One of my aims for my part of the display is to show people that they can garden to attract and nurture butterflies in their gardens.  Along with some of my photos of the life cycle of the monarch butterfly and of the anise swallowtail butterflyand my artwork and crafts from my butterfly photos, I’ve put together lists with information about local butterflies, their food sources and helpful plants.  I’m attaching the lists to this post as pdfs for you to read and print out for your own use.  If you want to copy them for any other use, please contact me for permission.

It’s great timing to have the display in Albany right now – the monarch butterflies have returned in great numbers to the shelter of the eucalyptus trees on Albany Hill.  This is a photograph I took two weeks ago there.

Monarchs wintering on Albany Hill

Monarchs wintering on Albany Hill

If you have any questions about Barbie or butterflies, just let Christina, George, and me know in the comments.  We hope you can make it to the display!

Here are the pdfs I mentioned above — click on the bolded text to download each pdf.

First, a partial list of Bay Area butterflies, with my photographs of a few of the butterflies:

Bay Area Butterflies

Second, a partial list of larval host plants for local butterflies. These are the most critical plants, because the butterflies need them to lay their eggs on. When the eggs hatch, they eat the plant to survive until they change into chrysalises:

Gardening to Attract Butterflies: Larval Hosts

Third, nectar plants for butterflies. This is also a partial list to give you some ideas about what you can plant to provide nectar for Bay Area butterflies. Most adult butterflies feed on flower nectar. Not all flowers provide nectar, so if you really want to help the butterflies, try to include as many nectar-providing plants as possible. The butterflies will waste energy visiting flowers that don’t provide nectar. And of course butterflies are great pollinators, and as they feed on the nectar they carry pollen from previously visited flowers:

Bay Area Butterfly Nectar Plants

George also wrote a wonderful description of the evolution of our garden and yard into a wildlife habitat:

Killing our lawn, by George McRae