First monarch caterpillar emerges

Did you see my post about the monarch butterfly in our garden? 

And my follow-up post about the eggs that she left on our milkweed?

Here’s one of my photos of mama monarch:

And here’s one of my closeups of one of the eggs we found – for scale, remember that they’re about the size of the head of a pin!
I keep telling you about the size of the eggs, so here’s a photo I took of an egg alongside a normal-sized straight pin:
We decided to raise them inside, because it greatly increases their survival rate. We found 13 eggs, and carefully brought them inside on Thursday. By Saturday some of the eggs had lost their yellowish color, now appearing grayish-white with darker shading inside (the caterpillar’s skin has formed and is showing through the egg, which is actually translucent).
Here’s a tighter closeup:
And voila! By Saturday evening the first tiny caterpillar had eaten its way out of its egg. The newly-hatched larva is a little more than a millimeter long, and has a gray body with a shiny black head. Here he (or she) is:
You can see its egg to the right. The tiny caterpillar is exploring and eating the milkweed.
I just checked, and more of the caterpillars are emerging, so check back for more photos!
In fact, here’s a new photo of our second baby. This caterpillar emerged from the only egg of the batch that we found on another type of milkweed, the Asclepias physocarpa.
He’s headed back to eat more of his eggshell.
And finally, another photo with a pin for scale, showing the size of the newly emerged caterpillar:

Monarch eggs in the garden!

Well, guess what? George was right that she was a female – she left us some precious gifts. Yesterday I noticed many tiny yellow eggs sprinkled on our milkweed plants. Here’s an extreme closeup of one, it’s about the size of the head of a pin!
Isn’t it amazing how she tucked it up under the cap of the bud of the unopened milkweed flower? Most of the eggs that we spotted are on the Asclepias cancellata “Wild Cotton,” which we got at Annie’s Annuals & Perennials.  You can read about this beautiful milkweed plant on Annie’s website. Here’s another extreme closeup:
You can see the oval shape and tiny lines (which my poor eyes can’t even see without blowing up my photos).  This side view really shows the oval shape:
 I think this one is getting ready to emerge from the egg – the black speck appears to be the tiny larvae (caterpillar) breaking through:
Click here to see an incredible time lapse video on Youtube of a monarch caterpillar breaking out of its egg.  Pulling back a little, you can see this one tucked among the unopened flower buds:
Finally, I really hate to post an out-of-focus photograph, but I took this one last night when we first found them, and the light was fading and I had no time to set up my tripod (excuses, excuses), so sorry for the fuzziness, but it shows you the size of the egg in scale with George’s finger.
I mentioned in my prior blog post that we have hardly seen any monarchs in our garden for a couple of years. I checked, and it was Spring 2009 when we last had the good luck to find monarch eggs on our milkweed. We raised and released them, and I photographed the entire process. You can see those photos by clicking here.  The mortality rate of butterflies left outside is quite high, due to predators, weather factors and other causes, so raising them indoors greatly increases the chance that they will survive. We’re honored that this monarch trusted us with her eggs, and we will guard and nurture them until they emerge, then let them go to continue the cycle!

Monarch in the garden

A good day –a monarch butterfly is flitting around our garden! Here she is perched on the leaves of the peach tree.
Monarch butterfly perched on a peach tree
It has been a couple of years since George watched a monarch lay eggs on the milkweed in our backyard. We brought some of the eggs inside to raise in safety.  Click here to see the photos I took of the whole process, from the tiny eggs, to the caterpillars, to the chrysalises, and finally to the butterflies which emerged (and which we released.)
But despite all of the milkweed George has planted to attract them, we’ve hardly seen any monarchs in the garden since that special year.  So imagine my delight when I saw this one — she (George got close enough to identify her as female) was sunning on the angel’s trumpet, and she also seemed to like the fennel plant and the dogwood tree, as well as the milkweed.   Here she is on the dried seed pods of the fennel, which is one of the anise swallowtail butterfly’s larval food sources.
She spent quite a bit of time on the milkweed, and I’m hoping she left some eggs.
I love this milkweed, it’s Asclepias physocarpa. Bees like it too – can you see the honeybee a bit to the left of the butterfly? Physocarpa is also known as “Family Jewels” because the seed pods look like … well, here’s a photo I took yesterday of one of the dried seed pods, see for yourself.
Here’s a closeup of the butterfly on the milkweed, you can see her poor tattered wing.
Did you know that one of the monarch butterfly’s protective characteristics is to poison its predators? In the larval stage it eats milkweed leaves to incorporate the milkweed toxins into its body. Perhaps a bird realized after getting a bite that it didn’t want to keep eating.

Butterflies in Your Garden

My butterfly display at the El Cerrito Library  is up! It’s in the glass case at the front of the library.  It will be there from June 5th through mid-July.

One of my aims is to show people how to 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 some 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.

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

Fourth, I compiled a bibliography of books related to butterflies, native plants and gardening that are available in the El Cerrito Library.  This is the link:

Books about Butterflies and Native Plants at the El Cerrito Library

Last, but not least, George wrote a wonderful description of the evolution of our garden and yard into a wildlife habitat:

Killing our lawn, by George McRae

If you have any questions, just let me know in the comments.  Hope you can make it to the display.

Swallowtail butterfly eggs!

The wheel turns, another cycle begins …  Just last week two of the butterfly chrysalises that we’ve been sheltering emerged.  They’re anise swallowtail butterflies.  The first one was a male – if you can get a good close look, one set of the black lines on the male’s wings is thicker than on the female’s —

Anise swallowtail butterfly

Anise swallowtail butterfly

We let him go quickly because the weather was really nice.  The anise swallowtails can remain in the chrysalis stage for years.  We’ve had some for more than two years.  You can tell they’re still alive because if you touch the chrysalis gently it will move.  It’s very different with monarch butterflies — the timing for the stages monarchs go through from egg to emergence are always the same.

A day or so later another one of the swallowtails emerged – this one was a female.  As we released her I said what I always say to the lady butterflies: “Come back to our garden and leave babies!”

So, as for the cycle of nature turning — today I found three eggs on the fennel in our garden!  The native plant the anise swallowtails lay eggs on is called yampah.  This great online resource,  CalFlora.org,  has lots of information about yampah and other native plants.  We have some yampah in a pot, but it grows very slowly.  Here’s a picture I took last year.  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 have turned to the fennel plant, which grows very easily here, to lay its eggs and as its larval food source.  Fennel grows 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 probably killing hundreds of swallowtail eggs and caterpillars.   Here’s a photo of an egg on fennel:

This is roughly three times larger than life size.  These last 2 pictures are from a series I did on the entire life cycle of the anise swallowtail butterfly.  You can see all of the photographs on my smugmug gallery.

What butterflies have you been seeing your garden?   Do you plant milkweed for monarchs or other plants to attract and feed butterflies?

Butterflies emerging!

What a celebration we had for the first beautiful warm day after a horrendous stretch of pounding rainstorms, hail and cold — two of our swallowtail butterflies emerged!

Anise swallowtail butterfly

Anise swallowtail butterfly

Number one came out in the morning.  He’s an anise swallowtail butterfly that we raised from an egg we found on fennel in our garden.  We let this guy sit inside for a bit, then after his wings had firmed up, we opened the cage and away he flew.  Anise swallowtails are interesting, because they don’t emerge according to a set timetable (as monarch butterflies do).  The swallowtails stagger their emergence, possibly to insure that some of them at least emerge at a time when there will be plenty of food for them.  We have some swallowtail chrysalises in our butterfly nursery that date back more than 2 years.

Swallowtail chrysalis

Swallowtail chrysalis

You can tell they’re still viable because there’s movement inside if you touch them.  After checking some of them, George noticed that another chrysalis had darkened, which they do when they’re getting ready to emerge.  And shortly after that, number two came out!

I only got a few shots of these guys, but if you want to see my photos of the life cycle of the anise swallowtails, go to this gallery in my smugmug website.  I have closeup shots of the entire process — from egg, to caterpillar, to chrysalis, to butterfly.  Oh, and we haven’t seen any monarch butterflies in our yard yet, and we don’t have any of them in our butterfly nursery, but you can see my photos of the life cycle of the monarch butterfly at this gallery.  Happy Spring!

Butterflies and Flowers of the Bay Area

We’re taking our show on the road! George and I will present “Creating and protecting local habitats for butterflies, birds and other wildlife,” a slide show with my photographs and George’s informed and entertaining narrative, on Saturday February 13th at 7:30 p.m. at the Visitor Center at San Pedro Park.

Monarch caterpillar pupating

Monarch caterpillar pupating

Anise swallowtail butterfly

Anise swallowtail butterfly

Have you seen my photographs of the life cycles of the monarch and swallowtail butterflies?  We’ll show those and describe the process of attracting, protecting and raising butterflies.

Monarch butterfly

Monarch butterfly

Anise swallowtail butterfly on allium
Anise swallowtail butterfly on allium

We will also show many photos of other Bay Area butterflies and of plants and flowers that are larval hosts and nectar or pollen sources for butterflies and birds.

Bird nest in ribes tree

Bird nest in ribes tree

George will talk about how to garden to attract all kinds of wildlife and how to restore wildlife habitat, in line with guidelines of the National Wildlife Federation.

Pipevine

Pipevine

Join us if you can, we’d love to see you there.

Hummingbird mother on nest

Hummingbird mother on nest