Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Super Monarchs

The days are getting shorter, the nights are getting cooler, and it's time for our Monarch friends to fly south to avoid the cold and snow.  I again was part of the Minnesota Monarch Festival held last Saturday Sept 10th at Lake Nokomis.  I enjoy teaching, and just sharing my love and knowledge about Monarchs with anyone who will listen, so as you can imagine this festival is one of the highlights of my summer.  We tagged and released over 200 Monarchs to send to Mexico.  If you happen to find, or see a tagged Monarch, the tags are a tiny white circle on the hind wing, report your finding if possible.

I have lost track of exactly how many butterflies I have actually released that I raised this summer, but I'm figuring by the time September ends (I still have 4 caterpillars, and 7 chrysalises) I will have released nearly 40 butterflies.  I have also shared them with friends, and neighbors so they can enjoy this beautiful process.  While that is a small drop in the bucket, the lack of caterpillars this summer is a huge concern.  I feel like I should have had more than twice that number if numbers of butterflies were more normal.  If you are reading this and are in the Minneapolis area and would like to help me in this mission I have Milkweed seeds in a MilkCrate at the end of my driveway, please plant Milkweed and butterfly friendly flowers in your garden ( they need SUN) and you too will have butterflies and caterpillars in your garden.  Help me Save the Monarch!

Here is my pretty girl hatched today, and my handsome male!  See if you can identify the difference.
Hint (Male has a black dot on the hind wings....Female does not)  Also if you notice the veins in the male are thinner than the female.  These two butterflies are headed to Mexico....safe travels.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

September 1, 2016 Blog Update

September 1,  Wow this summer has gone fast.  I hope you've enjoyed this blog, and perhaps have learned something about this beautiful creature we call a Monarch butterfly and how/why it's important that we save it!  I am very encouraged at the effort that I see in my own community to create habitat, gardens and allow milkweeds to grow where a few years ago they would have been pulled, mowed, or sprayed!  I want to include some resources on this blog for you to continue to follow Monarchs, and all of our migrating birds and butterflies.  Check out Journey North Website

Journey North engages citizen scientists in a global study of wildlife migration
it's a great website for all things Monarch and beyond.  Another great site is
Monarchwatch.org  it has gifts, resources, plants and information about raising Caterpillars.  Last but not least, if you live in the Minneapolis Metro Area please put the Monarch Festival on your calendar of summer activities Saturday September 10th,  10 AM - 4PM  Lake Nokomis Park, Minneapolis Mn. Monarchfestival.org  It's great festival for kids and parents.  Education tents, face painting, mexican style food, and people dressed up as butterflies!
Finally to report on my end of the season caterpillars.  I hatched a dozen eggs last week.  I gave away 5 caterpillars to neighbors to help me raise.  I currently have 3 chrysalises, 1 3rd instar, and 9 2nd instar babies.  When they are all big enough to take a photo of I will post.  You can't imagine how small these caterpillars are when they first hatch.  They are very difficult to keep track of!  They are all big enough now that I can see them, but not really big enough to show up in a photo, but all of them will eventually fly to Mexico!

Friday, August 19, 2016

Prime Caterpillar season!

August 19!  The summer is quickly getting away from us, and it is prime Caterpillar (Bug) season!  I am still very concerned that there are so few butterflies and caterpillars in my own garden and everywhere that I look for caterpillars.  But, I have seen at least 1 Monarch everyday this week, and I was invited out to a farm West of the Twin Cities Metro and was lucky enough to find an egg,  a hatchling less than 24 hours old, 2 2nd instar caterpillars, and 3 3rd instar caterpillars.  So there are caterpillars if you are patient and hunt for them!  Why did we not find any bigger than 3rd Instar is my nagging question?  Those would be the really big ones just before they Chrysalis.  I remember just a few years ago in a field the size we were looking in it would be FULL of caterpillars.  They were very easy to find, and very plentiful.  That just has not been the case the past few years!  So I have been sharing my babies with a couple neighbors and to date have raised, hatched and released almost 2 dozen caterpillars.  It's supposed to be very cool weather this weekend, so I'm hoping I can do more hunting and save more caterpillars!  Otherwise we just have to keep waiting and hoping that the population returns to what it was 5-10 years ago.  We have to keep working together to protect caterpillars, milkweed, and the flowers the adults need to replenish their energy and prepare them for their flight to Mexico in a month!  As always I welcome your thoughts, questions and comments!
Save the Monarchs!

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Save the Monarchs! Save the Milkweeds!

Saving the Monarchs starts with people using their voices to educate others about the lifecycle and needs of these beautiful creatures.  I was very disturbed yesterday while I watched a lawncare company MOW down a field of Milkweeds!  They were not being sprayed, which is a good thing!  However those Milkweeds likely were home to caterpillars that likely will never survive now.  So if you know people that run lawncare companies they need to be educated not to destroy milkweeds, especially in August and early September.  The destruction/elimination of Milkweeds are of primary explanation why Monarchs are on the decline.  On the bright side, I am noticing milkweeds in gardens everywhere I go.  So if you are growing Milkweeds....YAY!  Let them grow until after first frost.  Check them for caterpillars.  Protect those little caterpillars!  We are making a difference, but the declining numbers are staggering!  If for every 100 butterflies that fly to Mexico in October, only 5 survive to make it back north in the spring, that means that we need to increase those numbers significantly!  It is truly survival of the fittest, so the more fit Monarchs we can send to Mexico the more will return.  Mowing down the milkweeds does not insure survival no matter how fit the caterpillar!  Use your voice to educate those who don't know that Milkweeds are of Vital importance to the survival of Monarchs!
Save the Monarchs!  Grow and protect Milkweeds.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

August is here!

August is here.  That means that the fall migration will soon be underway!  The caterpillars that hatch into butterflies from now on are the ones that will make the 3,000 mile journey to the mountains in Mexico!  It is very important that if you are trying to raise Monarchs that we take care to ensure their survival and send them on their way.  The latest caterpillar that I found last year was in the middle of September, so we still have a month left to find and protect those caterpillars!  Also if you have milkweeds in your yard please do not pull them out or destroy them without assurance there are no eggs or caterpillars on the leaves.  I will have milkweed seeds available in a few weeks if you are interested in planting them for next season.  They either need to be planted this fall or left outdoors in a garage or someplace cold until spring.  As I mentioned in a previous blog I have discovered these You-tube videos by Mrlundscience that have much valuable information about milkweeds, caterpillars and raising butterflies.....check him out!
Until next time....happy caterpillar hunting!
Save the Monarch!

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

July 27 Good news Bad news....

I have been studying up on raising caterpillars from eggs by watching You-tube videos.  I highly recommend MrLundScience how to raise Monarch series.  He convinced me of an easier way to try to raise my caterpillars from eggs.  I can't do more than a few eggs at a time because when the babies hatch I can't find them on the plant, so he cuts the leaves with scissors and puts the eggs on a leaf on a wet paper towel.  I didn't think that would work but I tried it this weekend, and it was successful!  That's the good news.  The bad news is I then put the babies on milkweeds in my aquarium in water bottles like always, but now I can't find them because they are so tiny!  So I'm not sure if they escaped, ate each other, or if they will grow and then I'll find them in a week or so.  But I also had 3 more hatch today, so I put them in a smaller container on leaves, so I'll see if I can keep track of them.  The other good news is as I was complaining that I wasn't finding any caterpillars that have hatched in my garden I found 2 first instars on the same plant today.  I need to see if I can find some milkweeds nearby that are not so covered with aphids as mine!  Happy hunting! Keep up the good work.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Monarch hatching

video of Monarch hatching late summer 2015

July 22

Well the caterpillar business is slow to pick up this year, but I'm hopeful!!  I spent many hours, and many miles walking looking for caterpillars last weekend, with NO luck at all.  But I have found eggs.  I cannot post pictures of eggs because I do not have a high enough power camera, but if you're interested in what they look like I suggest you look online.  There are lots of good photos much better than I could post here.  I found 3 tiny caterpillars today.  One that I hatched from an egg, the others are very recently hatched.  I have also marked 3 eggs in my garden that I will watch and hopefully capture before anything harms them.
Do Monarch caterpillars have predators?  A few years ago I probably would have answered that question with "not many"...however, I believe now that they do.  Especially if there are not as many Monarchs laying eggs so Caterpillars are in short supply already.  So the other insects in my garden that I believe harm my cats are Japanese Beetles, Wasps, Milkweed Beetles and even other caterpillars.  I have reached out to experts regarding this, and have not gotten any solid answers, so these are just my personal observations.  If anyone out there reads this and has other information, please feel free to comment.  I would also be interested to know what to do about these other pests.  Since I can't use a pesticide because I don't want to harm the cats I have tried natural remedies such as peppermint oil for wasps, and Lemon with Cloves but it doesn't seem to be working.  The Japanese Beetles I can pick off, but I can't pick off wasps! So I just do what I can to protect the caterpillars and eggs as I find them.  Keep the faith, and happy caterpillar hunting!

Friday, July 15, 2016

From egg, to caterpillar to Chrysalis to Butterfly

Our first Monarch has hatched!  So this is the caterpillar that was first pictured on June 21.  It made it's chrysalis on July 3 and hatched shortly after 1 PM July 15th.  Below are some of the pictures I took while in the Chrysalis.  Notice how in the first picture the case is a beautiful green color.  As the butterfly develops, the wings become visible, until the Chrysalis is a perfect clear showcase for the emerging butterfly.  It will hang on the chrysalis for several hours before it is ready to be on it's way later this evening...so more posts and video to come!

Friday, July 8, 2016

Where are the Monarchs?

I have had many friends and fellow Butterfly enthusiasts asking "where are the Monarchs?  I haven't seen any!"  This is why its so important to spread the word about ways to save this butterfly!
The simple answer is that the population has been so severely decreased in the past few years its not your imagination...there are not as many butterflies as there were 10, 15 years ago!  Some factors are out of our control.  Storms, and overforesting  in over winter sites in Mexico have depleted the only know habitat for the Monarchs during cold northern months.  So obviously the fewer Monarchs that make it through the winter the fewer there are to come back in the spring, which also means that there are fewer Monarchs to rebuild the population in the few short months they spend here in Minnesota.  But don't give up my Monarch friends!!  I have seen 2 monarchs this week in my Milkweeds.  I have last weeks chrysalis that will hatch next week, AND I found my first egg on Wednesday. So keep watching for them!!  As this new generation hatches, and reproduces you WILL see more butterflies in the coming weeks!  I continued to find caterpillars until beginning of October last year.  Those late season butterflies  (August, Sept) are the ones that will migrate back to Mexico, so they need to survive!  Spread the word! Encourage friends, neighbors, city officials, strangers you meet on the street to plant and protect milkweeds.  Watch for caterpillars and try to ensure their survival.  Avoid using pesticides as much as possible. If you want to learn more about raising caterpillars theres lots of information online.  U of Mn Monarch Lab, Monarchwatch.org, and journey north are all credible websites with much useful information about protecting our pollinators.
Stay vigilant friends and Save the Monarchs!!!!

Monday, July 4, 2016

Final Transformation Caterpillar to Chrysalis July 3, 2016

Our Caterpillar began his transformation sometime early on Sunday July 3.  As you can see at the beginning of this video it hangs in the shape of a "J" for several hours preparing to become a Chrysalis.  (FYI a butterfly forms a Chrysalis, a Moth forms a Cocoon.  Many people confuse the two terms.)
This Video is about 3 hours of time lapse compressed to about 30 seconds with the finale being the finished Chrysalis.  As you can see once it begins to spin the Chrysalis it doesn't take long.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Ready to Chrysalis July 2

In a few day's our caterpillar will begin it's final transformation from Caterpillar to Chrysalis to Monarch.  The amount of growing this caterpillar has done in just about 2 weeks is incredible!  My next post will be of the beautiful green chrysalis that will be it's home for about another week or so.

 Below are the 3 caterpillar pics for comparison

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Week 2 Caterpillar

Its been 1 week since last post of my baby caterpillar.  Below is the picture showing how much our baby has grown in 1 week.  Notice the black trail behind it?  that is the skin that it molted out of.  The periods between molting (shedding of skin) is called instars.  The caterpillar goes through 5 instar stages before it makes a chrysalis

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

First Caterpillar of the season June 21, 2016

Photo below shows a Milkweed leaf where an egg has hatched, and the tiny caterpillar has eaten the egg, and spots on the surrounding leaf.  If you are able to find a milkweed leaf with these tiny holes there is likely a tiny caterpillar nearby.  As you can see they are very small in their first few days of life.  As they grow, and eat more and more, they become bigger and bigger and are easier to spot, but many do not last that long.  They are eaten by beetles, or even other caterpillars.  Most eggs simply do not make it to adulthood.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Common Milkweeds

Here are some photos of Milkweeds in my garden.  Female Monarchs typically lay eggs on the underside of the leaves.  When the caterpillar emerges it eats the egg, then begins to feast on the tender Milkweed leaves.  Tiny caterpillars are often found on the underside of the leaves, as the caterpillar gets larger it may be found anywhere in the garden, however the caterpillar ONLY feeds on Milkweed. (there are several varieties of Milkweed depending on location)  These are most common Milkweeds in northern US.

Common Milkweed

Milkweeds in butterfly garden

Saturday, June 18, 2016

I am the Monarch Lady.  Self proclaimed watcher, supporter and spokesperson for all things Monarch.  My yard is full of Milkweeds, and butterfly friendly plants.  I look for butterflies, caterpillars and eggs in my garden on a regular basis.  So far (June 18, 2016)  I have possibly seen one Monarch fly by, but not stop long enough for me to even identify it as a Monarch.

I am very concerned about environmental effects on our pollinators!  We ALL need to become involved and learn how to save Monarchs and Bees before they disappear forever!

I would like to share my knowledge of raising Monarch butterflies from egg to caterpillar to adult butterfly with all who will indulge me, and I will post photos from my own experiences.

My family recently visited the Piedra Herrada Monarch reserve in the Mountains west of Mexico city and saw one of the overwinter sites for our Northern Monarchs.  It was a life changing event for me!  It was like being in a snowglobe of Monarchs.  Something I will never forget and it renewed by determination to educate anyone who will listen to me about saving these beautiful butterflies!

Piedra Herrada Monarch reserve