Anise swallowtail butterflies return

The calendar says it’s summer, but my weatherman (aka George) observes: Brrrrr … . Happily, despite our fog and chilly temps, the Anise Swallowtail butterflies are here on schedule. I haven’t seen any adults visit the garden, but they’re leaving precious yellow eggs on the fennel. The egg on top was probably laid today, the one with darkening bands was likely laid several days ago. This is an extreme closeup shot – the eggs are smaller than the head of a pin.

Anise swallowtail butterfly eggs

I took this photo in 2013 of a female laying an egg (ovipositing) on the same fennel plant.

Anise swallowtail butterfly laying egg on fennel

We keep the eggs and caterpillars inside in a net cage where we feed them and keep the chrysalises safe until the adult butterflies emerge. We also rescued several caterpillars from a plant in our neighborhood that has been cut down in previous years. This guy just shed his skin (on the right).

Anise swallowtail butterfly caterpillar

See how coloration varies in different larval stages.Anise swallowtail butterfly caterpillars

So far one adult has emerged.

Anise swallowtail butterfly emerged

When the sun finally came out I put her onto a lily plant on the deck, and after a minute or so she happily flew away.

Want to see more of these wonderful butterflies and their life cycle?

My 2013 post about anise swallowtail butterflies.

And from 2012.  Another from 2012.  And another!

And from 2011.  Another from 2011. And another!

 

 

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Cats and cats

What do feral cats and butterfly caterpillars have in common? Not much beyond linguistically – some people use the affectionate term “cat” to mean caterpillar. Other than that it gives me an opportunity to tell you about my weekend. I was helping George feed one of his feral cat colonies in an overgrown field when I saw an anise swallowtail butterfly on a mallow plant. The helping part ground to a halt while I took photos, but George didn’t complain.

Anise swallowtail butterfly

I had brought the camera to get some photos of the cats. They know him and come around when he brings their food and water.

Feral cats

Some hold back until he steps away.

Feral cat

Others are so friendly it’s obvious they were house-cats, mostly likely abandoned when people lost their homes. Shameful, even so.

George gets a head bump

George gets a head bump

After we fed the cats I found one swallowtail butterfly egg on a wild fennel plant. This time of year there should be many more.

Anise swallowtail butterfly egg

Anise swallowtail butterfly egg

I hadn’t found any eggs on our garden fennel yet, but I was curious after finding the one in the field, so I checked – no eggs, but one large caterpillar!

Anise swallowtail butterfly caterpillar

Anise swallowtail butterfly caterpillar

We’ll let it make its chrysalis in our butterfly nursery, and then release it after emerging. I’ll keep you posted! Just a reminder if you have wild fennel growing on your property – yes, I know it gets rangy and out-of-control, but if you need to cut it down before it dries out, please check for eggs, caterpillars, and chrysalises. Making your yard look neat could cost the lives of many of these beautiful butterflies.

So my wish: more caterpillars, no more abandoned cats!

Monarch butterfly mating dance

This past year I selected my best photos of monarch butterflies from egg to emerged adult, to create a poster illustrating the monarch’s life cycle.

Monarch Butterfly life cycle posterI was most thrilled to get photos of the wonder of a monarch creating, and then shedding, its chrysalis. Here it’s pupating:

Monarch caterpillar pupating

After about two weeks it emerged (also called eclosing):

Monarch butterfly eclosing

In all my time photographing monarchs I never imagined I’d be able to capture one depositing an egg on milkweed; their visits to the garden are sadly rare, and the female leaves her eggs quickly and flits away. But disciplining myself to bring my camera whenever I went into the garden finally paid off. One day this summer I saw a female ovipositing, and quickly grabbed some photos before she flew off.

Moanrch butterfly laying egg

The cycle was finally complete, I thought, but of course I forgot one crucial part: mating! Yesterday George and I took a road trip to a local overwintering spot for monarchs, and were joyously watching several large clusters in the eucalyptus trees. Many lone butterflies were also flying around.

Monarch butterfly cluster

Noticing one fluttering its wings in the grass, I went to see whether it was stuck and needed help. I called George over, and with his keen naturalist eyes he spotted what I had missed; there were two.

Monarchs mating

And they were mating!

Monarchs mating

Here the male fluttered his wings over the female.

Monarch butterflies mating

And now they’re attached.

Monarch butterflies mating

Since it was almost evening, they probably stayed on the ground overnight because monarchs can’t fly if their body temperature goes below about 55 F (13 C).

And now the cycle truly is complete! Has Mother Nature thrilled you lately? If so, let us know!

A Butterfly Born on the 4th of July

We’re still finding anise swallowtail butterfly eggs on the fennel in our garden. And ta .. daaa… the first of the recent batch we’re raising emerged today. Born on the Fourth of July; more orange, yellow and blue than red, white and blue, and with stripes!

Anise swallowtail butterfly

The caterpillar at the top of the enclosure looks like it’s ready to form its chrysalis. And here are younger sibling caterpillars, still eating away.

Anise swallowtail butterfly caterpillars

We’ve been gathering fennel around the neighborhood, because our plants are starting to be pretty sparse after feeding at least 30 growing caterpillars!

So which do you think came first, the butterfly or the egg? I don’t have an answer to that old conundrum, but to bring the story full cycle, I just took this photo of one of the anise swallowtails depositing eggs on the fennel in our garden.

Anise swallowtail butterfly laying egg on fennel

Since we’re also finding monarch butterfly eggs on our milkweed, I took an extreme closeup photo of a monarch butterfly egg (on the left) and an anise swallowtail egg (on the right), to compare their sizes, and with the head of a needle included for scale.

Monarch and anise swallowtail butterfly eggs

Click here to see my post about the monarch butterfly that left that egg.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – if you have to cut down the fennel that’s growing on your property, please check it carefully for eggs, caterpillars, and chrysalises first. You could be killing an entire generation of anise swallowtail butterflies.

A Monarch Butterfly Visits the Garden

Why do you get up in the morning? For me, it doesn’t get any better than this: I was outside in the garden yesterday to check on a squawking hen. Looking up as a shadow crossed over my head, I spotted a monarch butterfly. A very welcome sight, because this hasn’t been a good year for monarchs; she was the first one I’ve seen in our garden all year.

Monarch butterfly in the garden

She flitted around several of the milkweed plants that George has planted to attract the monarchs. Milkweed is the only plant that monarch caterpillars eat.

Monarch butterfly in the garden

Finally, she found one to her liking and deposited an egg under a leaf.

Monarch butterfly laying an egg

If I hadn’t taken this photograph of her leaving the egg, I don’t think we would have found it, it was so well hidden.

Monarch butterfly egg on milkweed

We carefully inspected the other milkweed plants and found several more eggs. I wonder how many we missed!

Monarch butterfly egg on milkweed

The one high up in this milkweed plant (it’s the yellow dot near the center of the photo) must have been left a few days ago, because it already hatched, as did a second one George found on the same plant. This photo with the head of a pin included shows the size of the egg and the two tiny caterpillars.

Monarch butterfly caterpillars

Have you seen any monarchs in your garden? Are you planting milkweed to attract the females and feed the caterpillars?

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!