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!

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.

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!

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.

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.