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!

Found in the garden

If you follow my posts, you know that George and I raise and release butterflies. George plants larval hosts to attract egg-laying females to the garden, and when we’re lucky we find the eggs and bring them inside to raise them. Most recently we’ve had a flurry of anise swallowtail butterflies visit the garden and lay eggs on the fennel. We’ve released about 10 of the butterflies in the past few months. We usually find the tiny eggs, which are about the size of the head of a pin…

Anise swallowtail butterfly egg on fennel

… or the caterpillars when they’re relatively small (these guys were about a half inch long).

Anise swallowtail butterfly caterpillars on yampah

Today, I found a caterpillar which had thus far escaped our not-so-eagle-eyes. It looks to me like it’s ready to form its chrysalis. I brought it inside to protect it from predators and bad weather. I’ll let you know when it emerges.

Anise swallowtail butterfly caterpillar on fennelI recently shut down my smugmug site, where I had galleries of my photos showing the entire life cycle of the anise swallowtail butterfly and the monarch butterfly. I am reconstructing those on my website and will let you know when they’re up. Hopefully letting you know that will motivate me to get it done more quickly!

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

Anise swallowtail butterfly from 2006!

I think I’ve mentioned here before that anise swallowtail butterflies don’t emerge from their chrysalises on a set timetable, like monarch butterflies do. George thinks that it’s probably to ensure better survival, so some of the adult butterflies will emerge pretty quickly – in a couple of weeks, but others hang out for much longer.  You can tell that they’re still alive by touching them gently – they move.

This photo collage I did for the butterfly exhibit in the El Cerrito Library shows the caterpillar getting ready to become a chrysalis (pupate) – that’s the top left. The bottom left and top right show how different the chrysalises can look, some bright green, and some drab brown. The bottom right one shows what the empty chrysalis looks like after the adult butterfly emerges. Anyway, we were so excited to see that the beautiful female that emerged today became a chrysalis way back in 2006!

She must have come out sometime during the night, because she was ready to go this morning. Since the weather is so nice, we put her outside on a yampah plant, that’s the native larval food source for anise swallowtails. While she was resting happily in the sun, I got this photo of her from the side, showing her head, including her eyes, proboscis (that’s what they sip liquid food through), and antennae.

We always hope that the females we raise and release will remember the plant and come back to lay eggs, so we can continue the cycle.

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!