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!

Pipevine flower blooms again

Pipevine flower bloom

This amazing flower is blooming in our garden! It first bloomed last September. and we’re so excited that it returned with many more flowers this year. Some are still small, but quite a few have grown into the full-sized dramatic, four- to five-inch blooms. The colors are stunning, the broad flowers a deep maroon speckled with white, and the throats gleaming intense yellow tinged with orange-red.

Pipevine flower bloom

Pipevine (Aristolochia), also known as Dutchman’s Pipe, is the host plant for the Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly (Battus philenor), one of my absolutely favorite local butterflies. You can see my blog post, Pipevine Dreams, about the butterfly and plant. This is the  Aristolochia durior x A. elegans, a hybrid Pipevine that George got as a starter vine at the University of California Botanical Garden. We haven’t seen any of the butterflies around our vine, but I took this photo of one at the UC Botanical Garden this summer.

Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly on lilac verbena

Here you can see the Aristolochia durior’s pipe behind the unopened flower.

Pipevine flower

This shot shows you how large the flowers are compared to George’s hand

Pipevine flower bloom

What’s special in your garden this week? Any bird, butterflies, or blooms?

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.

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?

The Four Elements of Habitat

George and I took our “pup and pony show” to the El Cerrito Garden Club today.  He spoke, and we showed my photos on the topic of maintaining a garden to attract and nurture butterflies.

George speaking about Gardening for ButterfliesWe prepared some handouts and I want to share some of the information with you, so here is George’s explanation of the elements that you need to provide habitat for wildlife.

The four critical elements are: food; water; shelter; and places to raise young. All four elements are intertwined and necessary for wild life. No one element stands alone, and without all four successes at providing for wildlife suffers.

1) Food: All wildlife enhancements absolutely require this. Animals of all species will avoid areas unless they can be guaranteed a reliable food source. A balanced ecosystem needs to sustain everything from plants for larval insects to seeds and prey species, etc.

Anise swallowtail butterfly caterpillar eating fennel

Anise swallowtail butterfly caterpillar eating fennel

2) Water : The second partner in the pas-de-deux of life. Many animals need water to even feed, or to provide the food they need.

3) Shelter : The greatest variety of wildlife occurs at the interface of distinct habitat types. Example: an open field adjacent to a wooded area. Birds can feed in the field while having the woods to escape if necessary. And there needs to be shelter for them for waiting out inclement weather, or for night-time. Brush, trees of all types and heights, brush piles, high grasses, rock walls, and deep leaf litter and undisturbed forest “duff” all provide shelter and for the last item below:

4) Places to raise young : Success at proving habitat comes in a reward: succeeding generations of young! Tadpoles, baby birds, spawning fish, a skunk and her kits, emerging butterflies ovipositing and the emergent adults from cocoons or chrysalides is the perfect indicator of habitat success.

Monarch butterfly chrysalis

Monarch butterfly chrysalis

As for shelter, again provide brush, trees of all types and heights, brush piles, high grasses, rock walls, and deep leaf litter and undisturbed forest “duff”’, and gravel beds for many anadromous species of fish.

Notes: it is essential that the above provisions are consistent, removal of one or many of the elements will cause unnecessary suffering and waste of valuable energy for animals. Make all changes to the environment gradual and incremental. Many animals will flee a changed ecosystem and not come back.

ABSOLUTELY REFRAIN FROM USING HERBICIDES AND PESTICIDES. They have no part in habitat preservation. Most long-term effects are unknown and the current load already in the environment is doing irreparable harm.

Thanks, George, for this concise explanation. Dear reader, are you gardening for wildlife – butterflies, bees, birds, and other critters? What are you doing in your garden to provide the four elements of habitat?

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!