Friday, September 15, 2017

Tagging and Migration

So the question of the week is "How do you tag a Monarch?"  Well, it's actually very easy, and apparently very effective.  How many tags are placed on Monarchs each season, and how many are reported in Feb. and March?  I have no way of knowing.  There must be statistics that would answer that, but I'm not sure who would know.  The tags I use are from Monarchwatch.org, which is an organization from Lawrence, Kansas I believe connected with Un. of Kansas.  They are also my main information source about migration.  According to this group the Leading edge of migrating Monarchs has reached Kansas and Missouri, so they are right on schedule for their journey to Mexico.
So back to the question "How do you tag a Monarch?" (see photos below)  the tag is a very small sticker with a number on it.  My tags are XUL201-XUL250.  Each tag also has the Monarchwatch website listed on it, so if the butterfly is found in Mexico (or anywhere in between Minnesota and Mexico) the tag can be reported on the website with a location of findings.  The tag is simply placed on the outside hind wing of the butterfly before release.  So I will keep track of all my butterflies, male or female, and tag numbers.  I should easily have tagged and released around 40 butterflies since Sept. 1, having raised about 75 this season.
So the final numbers are pretty impressive actually.  I lost 3 caterpillars to the virus I mentioned in a previous blog, and I lost a few baby hatchlings just because they are extremely difficult to keep track of!  So that puts my success rate at about 95%....those are much better odds than out in the wild.  So again when people ask me "Why don't you just leave them outside?"  The answer is a simple one.  If a female Monarch lays 500 eggs, and only 10 or fewer of those eggs survive in the wild and I can give them a safer environment with a larger success rate than that, then I am helping the Monarch cause.  I have also recruited friends and neighbors that are also helping the monarch, by helping me, or raising caterpillars and growing milkweed in their own yards.  I figure that's about 100 Monarchs that might otherwise have perished without human help.
I just hope that the crazy weather that we are having doesn't have a negative effect on the population in Mexico, so that we have another good or better season next year.  It will take several good seasons in order to revive the species so they are no longer in danger of extinction.
So for now I will continue my plight to SAVE THE MONARCH!!   Carry on!

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Migration is beginning

Much of the information that I am going to post today comes from a website called "Journey North"  that tracks the migration of Monarchs, hummingbirds, Whooping Cranes as they begin to Migrate for the season.  It is from this information that I can say with confidence that the butterflies that are hatching from now on are the ones that will migrate to Mexico until spring.  The numbers that survive their migration will have a direct correlation on the numbers that will return next year....assuming they remain safe and healthy upon arrival in Mexico.
Monarchs that emerge from Chrysalis at this time of year are unique.  i.e. "Super Monarchs"  their focus is on nectaring, and storing up fat for their long journey.  They emerge in a state called Diapause, which means they are fully developed, but not mature reproductively.  The same hormone that causes the state of diapause, also enables the Monarch to survive for 8 Months, instead of 2-6 weeks.  It's believed that changes in temperature, and light signal this change in the late season hatchlings.  I have noticed that we have had an unusually cool and wet August here in Minnesota, and the egg laying and caterpillar numbers have rapidly declined.  I am also noticing that the butterflies stay in a Chrysalis state longer in August than June and July.
I am excited that year to date I have released 35 butterflies, and am looking for about that many more to send to Mexico!  I have ordered tags from MonarchWatch.org so I can tag my butterflies that I will be releasing in the coming month.  These tiny tags get reported on a website printed on the tag if the butterfly is found in Mexico.  I do not expect the butterflies to return in the spring.  This is a piece of the migration that seems to confuse most people.  I say again, the butterflies that I release this Month, and next will fly to Mexico.  If they survive the journey down, they will overwinter in huge trees in the mountains of Mexico then in early March they begin to journey back north.  Those butterflies only make it about as far as Texas then they lay their eggs and die.  So they butterflies that return to the north next season are the great great grandchildren of those that migrate this fall.  It boggles my mind that these tiny creatures have the ability to do that.  Flying 50 or more miles everyday, and arriving in southern Mexico around Halloween.
So to you that follow this blog, and have taken the leap and begun to raise your own butterflies this season the Monarchs are better off because of you.  If you release 5 butterflies, chances are those are at least 4 more than would have survived in the wild, and if enough of us do that it has to make a difference!!  Keep up the good work.  Save the MONARCH!

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Final butterflies of the season

I have not had any more caterpillars succumb to parasites, or viruses.  As of today I have released 23 healthy Monarchs, I have 4 that will hatch today, still another 6 or more in the next week, and too many caterpillars to even count, so I am far from finished with the season.  It's exciting to think that all will be heading to Mexico that will be released in the next few weeks, so it's doubly important that they are healthy and strong!  I have noticed a decrease in eggs and caterpillars out in the wild, and I'm wondering if that has to do with cooler and wetter than average August.  I am curious if they will rebound if it warms up, as it is predicted to do.  I will continue to look for another couple weeks, but I am cautious about raising any that will hatch too late to fly south, as last year all my late hatchlings died, which was very traumatic for me.  I believe it was simply due to it being too cold for them to survive.
I took some fun pictures over the past week....the first is a picture of a milkweed plant in my aquarium with a caterpillar on almost every leaf, all different instars (sizes), then in comparison the same plant after those caterpillars had done their work!  The other one is a photo of my daughter helping to release a female, and it's sitting on her shoulder.
As always....keep raising those butterflies.  I believe we are making a difference!
Spread the word and Save the MONARCH!



Friday, August 11, 2017

NPvirus

Its been an interesting week!  I have had beautiful healthy butterflies hatch every day this week.  The highlight was 4 females all on Wednesday!  Eggs, and caterpillars remain abundant this year.

That's all good news!!  Bad news this week, I learned about, and experienced first hand what I believe is called NPvirus...NPV.  I noticed one of my largest cats this AM dangling lifelessly from a chewed leaf, with a green substance on the paper towels beneath it.  So I visited the expert that I have mentioned many times (Rich Lund)  mrlundscience sure enough he had experienced a similar episode, and his information was informative, and discouraging!!  I removed all my caterpillars from big enclosure, and it will need to be sterilized with a bleach solution.  I am hoping I will not have to euthanize any more of my large cats!  I will monitor them closely until they do their thing!  The good news is that most of my caterpillars are already in Chrysalides, so I think they are safe!  I hope they are safe!!  There were only 4 or 5 big ones that were potentially exposed to the virus.  I have about 15-20 that are still too small to release into the big enclosure, so I think they are all safe, as long as I don't have another outbreak! yuk

So that's the news from the caterpillar world.  If you are following this blog, and are raising your own caterpillars/Monarchs please visit mrlundscience You-tube videos to learn more about these threats to our Monarchs!!  The last generation of the season is here.  They are the super Monarchs that will go to Mexico.  The more healthy butterflies that we release, the more hope there will be for next year's season to be a repeat of this year!!  We need several years in a row like this year in order to revive the species!!  Keep up the good work.

Save the MONARCH!

Sunday, August 6, 2017

August 6, eggs, babies and Chrysalides

There will be a butterfly explosion at my house this week.  All those Chrysalides that formed last weekend should hatch this week....very exciting!  A friend and I went "hunting" last Friday, and found at least 20 more eggs, and three baby cats.  I am still not seeing large (4th instar) cats out in the wild, so I continue to believe the safest place for them is in my care.  I am seeing so many more butterflies this year, which just makes me happy.
I watched some of the "mrlundscience" videos on youtube this week and he is feeling the same optimism about this years season, however, he also cautions that one good season is not enough to save this species and we must remain vigilant and continue to spread the word about planting milkweed, and encouraging our city governments to not mow it down! (especially in July and August!)
I also watched a video about the OE Virus that attacks Monarchs and spreads on milkweed.  It seems it's not a huge problem here in the midwest, but I have had caterpillars, and butterflies die that must have been infected.  More often than killing the caterpillar or butterfly it lives on the adult Monarch, then is spread when it lands on milkweed to feed or lay eggs.  Very fascinating!  If you're interested in more detail, please watch the videos produced by Mr. Lund.
Below are pictures of eggs, and a few of my chrysalides.  I hope I can get pictures, maybe even video of all this butterflies emerging this week!  In the meantime, Thanks for caring....SAVE the MONARCH!!


Sunday, July 30, 2017

July 30

Very interesting, and exciting weekend.  All the caterpillars that we found a couple weeks ago all spun within about 24 hours on Fri and Sat.  It was amazing to witness.  I actually saw 2 Chrysalides form from start to finish.  My daughter managed to film at least part of one of them spinning.  I also had 4 more eggs hatch, and I managed to take a picture of 2 baby Cats, approximately 1 and 3 days old.  The photo (zoomed in) shows how fast these little critters grow, and also how unbelievably small they are when they begin their lives.
So, again I am very encouraged that I am seeing so many caterpillars, monarchs and milkweeds, and finding more and more people that are finding the joy in raising these beautiful creatures, hoping to ensure their survival.  I am happy to pass my experiences, and advice on to anyone who will listen.  I can't wait for all these chrysalides to hatch now.  That will be another eventful 24 hours!
Save the Monarchs!

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

July 26

Well it is the end of July, and the Monarch and Caterpillar season are in full swing.  I am very excited about the numbers of caterpillars and butterflies that I am seeing, and about the numbers of milkweed that I see when I'm driving around.  I really feel like people are getting the message, and are proactively doing their part to save our pollinators!  Everywhere I go people ask for my expertise and advice about raising caterpillars, and obviously I love talking about it!  These amazing creatures just never cease to amaze me.  I love to watch them!  This week I witnessed 2 cats on the same leaf fighting.  I didn't watch long enough to see how it was resolved, but I'm sure eventually one of them just gave in and moved to another leaf, but it was sort of funny to me.
Well, as promised I took some pictures of my enclosure that I built this past weekend...pictures below.  Let me tell you what I did, cause it's hard to tell from the photos.  It's a large aquarium turned on end, so it's about 2 Ft. tall, then I covered the opening with removable netting, which I Velcroed to the frame.  One of the short sides was missing the glass anyway, so I covered it with a sturdy piece of cardboard, weighted down with books, so when it has chrysalides on it I can easily remove them with out disturbing the caterpillars below as needed.  The removable netting also makes it easy to access the caterpillars without disturbing chrysalides.  Just in time I was able to move in 12 large Cats, 12 tiny Cats, and 5 eggs.  I still am keeping the eggs and tiny newly hatched cats away from the largest ones in a separate container.
So this season has started much stronger than last few years.  I have also released 4 butterflies, 2 male, and 2 female.
That's all for now.....Save the MONARCH!  I welcome your questions and comments.


Friday, July 21, 2017

July 21

So far, this season seems like an improvement over last year.  I have had much better luck finding eggs and tiny caterpillars this year.  My daughter, a friend, and I went hunting last night and brought home many of the eggs and babies I currently possess.  I currently have 2 chrysalides, 3 large caterpillars, nearly 20 babies, and 8 eggs.  That is far ahead of last years numbers.  I am also seeing Monarchs in my garden, and frequently out on walks and while driving around.  I'm still not seeing large 3rd or 4th Instar caterpillars, but it's still early. Some of the ones that I have taken into captivity would have (hopefully) survived if left out in the wild.  I have plans this weekend to create a large habitat out of an old aquarium, so I will let you know next week how that goes and post pictures.  As all these babies grow, they need LOTS of space and milkweed.  Please don't try to save the Monarch population, unless you are prepared to provide the space, and the food for them to grow.   I believe there are more and more people out there that care and are aware that we need to do everything we can to save this species.  How sad would it be if my grandchildren never get to see a Monarch butterfly?!!  So keep up the good work, and as always, I welcome your questions, comments and ideas.  Together, we can Save the Monarchs!

Friday, July 14, 2017

Monarch season underway July 14

My first post of the season!  I have been busy searching for baby caterpillars, and eggs, but the season has started slowly.  I have connected to a new friend, and fellow butterfly enthusiast (Cheryl Natt) that to my delight lives very near me, so I hope we can perhaps connect with others in our area as well.  Perhaps a Monarchlady club?!  She was lucky enough to have had better luck finding eggs, and had quite a few cats of all different instars and roughly a dozen chrysalides, that she shared with me.  I also found 1 egg, and 2 babies in my yard today, so I am more hopeful than I was a week ago.  I believe I only found 3 cats in my garden all of last year, so that is good news that I've found that many already this year, and it's only mid July!  I also saw an article this week that indicated that the DNR has ask for 70 million dollars to plant milkweed along I-35 from Minnesota to Texas!

Please let me know what you are finding in your gardens!  Save our pollinators!

This photo is of my surprise hatchling this Wednesday....didn't notice it was ready to hatch on tuesday, and it was waiting for me at Breakfast.