Thursday, September 18, 2014

They Are Here!

I am very excited to report that Monarch butterflies will be visiting us annually from now on!




Monarch Butterfly Life Cycle

Monarch butterflies go through four stages during one life cycle and also four generations in one year.  Like other butterflies, Monarchs go through the four stages of a normal butterfly life cycle: egg, larvae (caterpillar), pupa (chrysalis), and adulthood.  Unlike other butterflies, however, the Monarchs' migration also involves four butterflies from four generations.  This means that in February and March, the butterflies come out of hibernation to find a mate.  They then migrate north and east to find a place to lay their eggs.  In March and April, the eggs are laid on milkweed plants (and milkweed only), after which the parent Monarch dies.  It does not take long for the eggs to go through the four stages of the life cycle, with adulthood lasting only two to six weeks.  In May and June, the first generation gives birth to the second generation and dies. The third generation is born in July and August.  In September and October, the fourth generation is born. Unlike previous generations, this generation migrates to warmer climates such as Mexico and California and will live for six to eight months until the whole process starts all over again.  (Source: Monarch-Butterfly.com )


Milkweed

The Monarch butterfly population cannot survive without milkweed.  Monarchs only lay eggs on milkweed leaves because they are the ONLY source of food for the caterpillars.  Unfortunately, with the rapid development and destruction of meadows, milkweed is becoming scarce.  There are many milkweed species that grow in the United States.  The species that I have seen grown wild on our farm is the common milkweed (asclepias syriaca).  





Another type that grows very well in Virginia, although it's not indigenous here, is the asclepias curassavica, also known as tropical milkweed, scarlet milkweed, bloodflower, and silkweed (you will see later why it has this name).  It's indigenous to warmer states, such as California, Florida, Louisiana, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas.  (Source: monarchwatch.org/bring-back-the-monarchs/milkweeds-by-state.)  Many sources claim that Monarch caterpillars prefer this milkweed because the leaves are very tender.  Whether or not this is true, it's a beautiful plant with striking flowers -- a great addition to your landscape.





A Year Ago

Last year, after learning that the Monarch butterfly population was declining at a rapid rate, I decided that I needed to do something.  I planted one tropical milkweed.  You are probably thinking to yourself right now "ONE?" ... Yes, one.  That was all it took!


A few months later, around the middle of Fall, I spotted one Monarch butterfly.  You can imagine my delight.  But, it was the only one I saw and it didn't stay very long.  I didn't know whether it was just passing by or whether it was the new generation that would continue the migration south.  


The Return

I decided that it was worth increasing the number of milkweed in our garden, just in case the one that visited was the new generation that migrated south.  If it was, its offspring will likely know to return. Although I harvested the majority of the seed pods, I did let a few scatter themselves as they wished.  I didn't know whether the seeds would germinate the following year.  To my delight, little plants started to pop up all over my garden the following spring.  This is what I have this year from the one plant I bought last year.  What is remarkable is that these are the results of just a few seed pods that escaped my harvest (I probably have collected enough seeds from last year's plant to grow an acre of Monarch food!).




Tropical milkweed is extremely easy to grow and propagate -- some might say it's too easy -- in fact, it's totally out of control!  This is why.  Tropical milkweed flowers prolifically and produces seed pods readily. Each pod contains a large number of seeds.  Each seed has silky fluff attached to it that acts as a parachute to catch the wind and efficiently propagate itself.  






Interestingly, I have read from several sources that during World War II, the silk was used instead of down in aviation lifejackets.  (Hummm ... I wonder how much milkweed silk it took to complete one of those jackets!) 
























These seeds are not very picky; a little soil, lots of sun, and some water are all they need.  Their roots are very shallow, so if you don't want them at a certain location, it's very easy to get rid of them.  I left these on my patio because I liked the way they added a little life to the otherwise lifeless corner of my patio.


Most of the other seeds landed in my garden, giving it vibrant colors as the majority of my flowers began to fade.  






Soon after the milkweed flowered, I saw three Monarch butterflies!!!















From my photographs, I could only be certain that two of them were female.  I kept my fingers crossed that either the third was a male or that the female butterflies had mated before they arrived.







The New Generation

I saw two of the three butterflies lay eggs ... (an indication that the third one was a male? -- so I hoped!)


About a week later, I spotted some of the eggs.  They were tiny little white dots under the milkweed leaves, the size of a period on a keyboard.


These tiny eggs are quite interesting if you look closely.  (I used a macro lens attachment for my iPhone.) 









I had to wait a few days to see if these were fertilized eggs.  It would usually take 2-4 days for a fertilized egg to hatch and a few more days for the caterpillars to be big enough for me to actually see them easily. It was a long few days!










Finally, a sign of life!!!
  
One day, while inspecting my garden, I saw a sure sign of the existence of caterpillars.  






This leaf even had frass (droppings).
But are these from a Monarch caterpillar?  Fingers crossed!  I carefully inspected the plants and turned over leaves.  I kept searching ... and searching ... and searching ... and ...















There it is!  A beautiful Monarch caterpillar!  



And another one ... (can you see me smiling?) 









And another one ... (I was totally ecstatic at this point!)








                                                     And another one ... (I couldn't believe it!)




































And look at this one.  It has engorged itself full of the toxin from the milkweed leaves and it's now so plump that it can barely contain itself under its own skin.  It looks so ready to shed its cover and morph into its pupa stage.


PS: Do you see the green pellets on the leaves next to the caterpillar?  Guess what?  They are the caterpillar's frass.  



Now, I have to be patient and wait for the butterflies to emerge.  It's going to be a long wait! 


Think about adding a milkweed plant to your garden.  Together, we can help the Monarch butterfly population.

"You cannot do a kindness too soon
because you never know how soon it will be too late."
                                                                                                        
                                                                                                       Ralph Waldo Emerson

There are many types of milkweed you can choose from.  Go to monarchwatch.org/bring-back-the-monarchs/milkweeds-by-state for suggestions.  My plan for next year is to add a variety of milkweed plants that are native to Virginia.  







41 comments:

  1. I really liked this wonderful Monarch Butterfly, beautiful photos!

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    1. Agreed! They are gorgeous. I love your abstract work. May be you can create an abstract interpretation of a Monarch?

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  2. WOW! Great pictures and a great education. Thanks for sharing. Tom The Backroads Traveller

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  3. Love the pics and learned a lot about Monarchs!

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  4. Christa!!!!
    What a post. Both beautiful and scientific. I am soooo impressed.

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    1. Hi there girl friday, thank you, thank you. I need your advice on what camera to buy. Also, a meme on just bottles is a brilliant idea. (For those of you who are wondering what I am talking about, "girl friday" liked the fact that I used old coke bottles in an arrangement I made last year.)

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    2. Why change cameras? Your pictures are perfect. Or do you want one for special subjects?

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    3. If you send me your email address in a comment [I'll moderate to keep it safe] and we can talk cameras if you like.

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  5. Buwah!! What a superb set of images and accompanying story. I've heard of 'cat ladies' before, but you may have launched a new genre; viz. the 'butterfly lady'. Kudos!!

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  6. So exciting! What a beautiful, inspirational, and interesting post, Christa.

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  7. Congratulations on your butterflies! Excellent post!

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  8. Awesome post, Christa! I would be very excited. The Monarchs have been having such a tough time lately. I love your flowers and the beautiful butterfly photos. Thank you for linking up, have a happy weekend!

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  9. So nice to see that you have some Monarchs ! :) I had thought about planting milkweed last year but had also read that it could take over, which worried me...if I had a larger yard I know that it wouldn't be a problem. Still maybe I could try a corner by the fence or something. Used to play with those silky pods as a kid in the fields below us...:)

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  10. An excellent and informative post Christa complimented by your lovely images.

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  11. We have lots of regular milkweed here, but I'll have to try to find some of the tropical milkweed because it's so pretty! When our kids were little, we used to collect a monarch caterpillar or two and 'raise' them through the next two stages until they hatched and flew off. It was so much fun to watch them change.

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  12. What a wonderful project...we live near a park district which has lot of milk weed and I have seen lots of Monarchs....I will have to be more observant of the various stages of that awesome butterfly♪ http://lauriekazmierczak.com/stroller-ride/

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  13. How wonderful! The milkweeds are gorgeous and I love the butterflies.

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  14. So interesting this informative post Christa I enjoyed reading it. I had the tropical milkweed in my garden some years ago and also the usual milkweed is doing well here, but helas.......no monarchs in our country, such a pity for they are wonderful.

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  15. Wow that was so interesting. I've never grown milkweed and had no idea that it flowered like that. The flowers are gorgeous and the bonus is getting the butterflies. I will check out the link on Milkweed plants.

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  16. I am totally in awe of this amazing post Christa, and would like to invite you to also share with Today's Flowers :) No pressure obviously but we would welcome you with open arms. I am going to plant milk weed in my garden as I want to do all I can to help this beautiful butterfly survive. I was in a butterfly garden several weeks ago and the gentleman in there told us about this particular butterfly, one that liked the paw-paw tree. The butterfly laid eggs on the wrong tree and when they hatched they watched as each new tiny caterpillar made their way from the wrong tree, crawling along the ground and making their way up to the right tree. To me that was an amazing part of nature. Thank you so much for this wonderful post and also for visiting and leaving comments on mine, have a great week :)

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  17. that's the prettiest type of milkweed i've ever seen! we had the pink type in wisconsin. here in texas we get antelope horn which is a tiny cream colored bloom. not flashy, but it does the job. we leave it grow in the pastures and i've seen monarchs here the last couple of years. so nice you've got a happy set taking advantage of your hospitality!

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  18. And YOU are the Monarch Whisperer! This was an incredible post! I loved every bit of this, from the tropical milkweed photos to the photos of the eggs, to the information. It was all amazing! Thank you so much for caring about the Monarchs enough to work at having them around! I will get a Tropical Milkweed plant and hope for the best!

    Thanks for coming by my blog and commenting about the bat! :-)

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  19. Hi,Christa,
    Amazing photos!!! I like your butterfly photo. They are so beautiful. I admire your careful observation.
    Happy day!

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  20. Wonderful to see you have monarchs and all your lovely milkweed. I plant 3 types here...common, swamp and butterflyweed. The butterflyweed is similar to your tropical one and native here...the monarch caterpillars love it and the orange color of the bloom is stunning.

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  21. Fabulous post for anyone interested in monarchs. (aren't we all?) Like Donna above, I have the same 3 varieties of milkweed in my butterfly garden, along with lots of sources for nectar. The flowers on the tropical milkweed are very colourful, wonder if we could grow it in Ontario as an annual?
    Thank you for linking to Mosaic Monday Christa.

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  22. I love the Monarch's and are looking forward to seeing them in the garden again soon. Beautiful post. :)

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  23. What a great post! I love it when people have a passion for something! Great captures from the monarch and it's life cycle:)

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  24. You have a very interesting blog. I too scattered milkweed seeds last year to help the monarchs. Thanks for visiting.

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  25. Very pretty colors, pure beauty in these compositions of nature, excellent photos !!

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  26. This is fabulous and the butterfly is beautiful but its caterpillar is just wonderful. I love the stripes

    mollyxxx

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  27. Beautiful pictures of the Monarch's life cycle!

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  28. Wonderful photos of the butterflies, eggs, and caterpillars! I would so love to have monarch caterpillars. I tried to grow A. tuberosa this year but rabbits ate it to the ground, strange since the sap is supposed to be toxic. So now it is a tiny plant. I also grew A. curassavica from seed but must have started too late, they are still rather small so I don't know if they can still bloom. Next year I will have to do better, though there are not necessarily any Monarch butterflies around anyway. But I can hope.

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  29. Amazing photos and it was interesting to see the life cycle of the Monarch butterflies.
    Thanks for taking part in Floral Friday Fotos. Hope to see you contributing again this week!

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  30. WOW!! Why couldn't science class have been like this - interesting and easy to understand explanations, brilliant photos, personal experience, and intriguing experiments?!!! Maybe even I, the invariable dreamer, would have stayed awake for a second!

    You have outdone yourself, my friend! I don't think I blinked once reading about this empirical adventure of the Monarch butterfly, from its beginnings to its end, and all the milestone stages in between! Milkweed, huh? Hmm. It is definitely dazzling in colour and shape, and since it is the playground for these beauties, then let the games begin! Wonder if Crete is a candidate for certain types of milkweed, since it shares a similar climate with California. Must conduct my own research now. Thanks for sharing all your findings!

    Happy weekend,

    Poppy

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  31. Christa, this post is FANTASTIC!! Thanks for visiting Our Little Acre and leaving a comment. I might not have found your wonderful blog had you not done that. :-)

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  32. Your photos of the monarchs (in different stages) and plant life are really beautiful, Christa!

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  33. Fascinating post! I do hope you get to see the butterflies emerge from their cocoons. I did for the first time this year, and it's quite amazing.

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