More Monarch Butterflies

It’s baby time again in the butterfly nursery at our house! In a June blog post  I told you about the thrilling visit by a female monarch to our garden, and showed you photos of her laying an egg on our milkweed.

Monarch butterfly depositing an egg on milkweed

Monarch butterfly depositing an egg on milkweed

The first monarch emerged this weekend!
DSC_5771 small This is a closeup of him hanging onto the chrysalis that he emerged from. DSC_5769 smallWe let him rest overnight because the weather was cold and windy. Sunday brought a bit of sun, so we let him go.

Monarch butterfly

His empty chrysalis is on the left. His sister is ready to emerge – we could tell because her chrysalis became transparent and we could see the pattern of her wings through it.
DSC_5735 smallShe emerged the next day. Here’s a photo of her from the front.DSC_5764 smallWe raised and released three monarchs – two male and one female. Hopefully she’ll return to our garden to to lay more eggs, or if you’ve planted milkweed maybe she’ll find her way to your garden!

I made a poster and card of the life cycle of the monarch butterfly.

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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.

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!