A Very Butterfly Day

George and I were jonesing for a monarch butterfly fix. This winter’s Big Storm uprooted the largest milkweed plant in our garden, and no monarchs have visited the smaller ones. Our butterfly-spotting treks to Albany Hill and Point Pinole Regional Shoreline, the over-wintering spots closest to us, were disappointing. We saw a few fluttering around Albany Hill, but nothing like past years’ large clusters. One paused on a branch at the top of the Hill long enough for me to photograph it.Monarch Butterfly at Albany Hill

And that’s why we both woke up yesterday morning with one thought: time to head for Ardenwood Historic Farm Park. Monarchs over-winter in Ardenwood’s eucalyptus grove from December to mid-February, and we’d heard through the butterfly grapevine (aka Facebook) that the numbers were good this year.

Ardenwood’s rangers are well-informed and eager to educate visitors about monarchs, from showing the butterfly’s life cycle to explaining the importance of growing milkweed and flowers, and not using pesticides. George quickly spotted a caterpillar munching on a milkweed leaf (Asclepias physocarpa) in their garden.

Monarch caterpillar

Then the ranger pointed out a chrysalis hidden under another leaf. An exciting first for us; we’ve seen so many monarch chrysalises in our butterfly “nursery”, but have never seen one in the wild!

Monarch chrysalisAnd finally! Hundreds of gorgeous orange monarchs fluttered above us in the bright blue sky.

Monarch butterflies

George and I, with the other awed visitors, lay on our backs to watch the dance.

Monarch butterflies

Two flew near a red-tailed hawk making lazy circles.

Monarch and hawk

As the sun slanted lower, the butterflies began to light on the eucalyptus branches.

Monarch  butterflies at Ardenwood

We reluctantly left the monarchs to speed through the rest of the Park before it closed (stay tuned for further adventures). Want to see more of my monarch butterfly blog posts? Click these links:

Monarch Butterfly Mating Dance

More Monarch Butterflies

A Monarch Butterfly Visits the Garden

Monarch Butterfly Emerges

Monarch Caterpillar to Chrysalis

First Monarch Caterpillar Emerges

Monarch Eggs in the Garden!

Monarch in the Garden

Butterflies & Barbie at the Albany Library

 

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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