Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Most exciting day ever!!!

Rosemary and I have been working hard on our butterfly garden this year. It started about a month ago when I purchased a homely looking milkweed plant at Ace Hardware (which was the only plant nursery opened on a Sunday that carried any milkweed at all- believe me- I made Joe drive all over town looking for one that was opened). They had recently cut it back and it only had a handful of leaves, so they gave me a discount and I figured I'd go ahead and give it a try. Rosemary and I planted it in a pot and placed it outside our screened in porch. To our surprise, a monarch butterfly responded and laid eggs on our sad looking mikweed plant! Once the egg started hatching, I brought the plant, along with the several tiny caterpillars, inside the porch to protect them from the wasps and other pests that like to eat them. After a couple weeks, there were no leaves left but there were a handful of hungry caterpillars that needed more food! I went to a local nursery and found some native milkweed- which looks nothing like what I had been buying and which can grow to be as a big as a tree. The owner of the nursery even took a huge caterpillar off another plant and let me take it home. It was the biggest caterpillar I have ever seen. I knew it wouldn't be long before it would be ready to pupate. The day after we got the new plant, I went to Petsmart and purchased a reptile terrarium to use as a butterfly hatchery. Unfortunately, by the time we got home to set up our little nursery, Mr. Big Caterpillar crawled off the milkweed never to be seen again. We knew it was his time and when the caterpillar senses it's time for him to metamorphose, it will crawl off the host plant and change into a pupa (chrysalis). I told Rosemary to be careful where she stepped and for the past two weeks, she has been warning me to be careful every time we step onto our porch. We searched high and low for the chrysalis, but never did find it. In the meantime, we did successfully nurture two caterpillars in our terrarium who did pupate. Today after I drop Rosemary off at school, I go out to check on the little pupas, and there on the screened-in porch, is who else but Mr. (or Mrs.) Butterfly!!!!! Our escapee was inside the porch the whole time!!!! And one of our pupas inside the terrarium was about to hatch! It was magical today inside our little old screened-in porch! Here are some pictures of our adventures in butterfly gardening:

Milkweed is the host plant for monarch butterflies. They will drink the nectar from the flowers and lay their eggs on the plant. Usually they lay their eggs on the underside of the leaves, but this little guy left his on the actual blossom. That little tiny dot in the middle of the red bud is a butterfly egg. They are very tiny, but once you know how to spot them, you will be amazed at how quickly you will notice them!


 Once the egg hatches, it becomes a teeny tiny little caterpillar. That teeny tiny little caterpillar eats his eggshell and munches through the leaf. You can see the hole bitten through this leaf right above the caterpillar. That's where his egg was. Now our little friend (Rosemary names all our caterpillars Bailey) will start his journey.


Here's a picture of another recently hatched caterpillar from our garden. You can kind of see how tiny they are in this picture by comparing it to my fingers. Trust me, I'm not a giant! They look so big compared to the caterpillar though!


While I was going around taking pictures of the caterpillars, Xander-man decided to play in my reserved soil. Nice, little man.


Here's another caterpillar, not so small. Actually, this picture was taken a couple weeks ago. This is the caterpillar that just hatched into a butterfly today! This was shortly before we put him in the terrarium.


Here he is after we put him in the terrarium. When the caterpillar is ready to pupate, he will either crawl off the host plant, or in this case, crawl to the top of the terrarium, spin a little web, hang from it in a "J" shape, and eventually pupate.

Here's the same caterpillar after metamorphosing into a pupa. He stayed this way for about two weeks.


Here's a second caterpillar in our terrarium in the "J" shape just before pupating (I hate that word. Pupate.) You can see our first pupa sticking out of the front of the top.


Here's the first one again. This was taken this morning. I noticed all the green color was gone, and I could see the color and shape of the wings inside the pupa so I knew it wouldn't be long before he hatched. 


And this picture was taken about an hour later. See the empty chrysalis?! SOOOOO COOL!!!!!


And here's Bailey! But, what's that in the background, attached to the white part of our porch??? Another butterfly! Yes, that would be our escapee!!! Two butterflies in one day!!!!

Here's another closer shot of the escapee (look by the mulch- he's inside the porch.)


And an even closer picture.


I waited for Rosemary to get home from school today before releasing either of them. She was so excited to see the new butterflies!


After our escapees wings dried (you need to wait a while before releasing them or they won't be able to survive), I gently coerced her outside using Xander's toy butterfly net. She hung out on the screen door for a few hours before she eventually flew away. It was an AMAZING journey!!!! I hope she'll come back and lay some eggs in our garden so we can continue her legacy. But I have a feeling she's halfway to Mexico by now!


Our second hatchee of the day was still drying those wings by the time the sun went down so I stuck some food in there for her and we'll check on her in the morning. I'm sure she'll be ready to fly by then! I love how she grabbed onto the stick I put in there!

I like to think I'm teaching Rosemary some valuable life lessons about humans and nature, but really I'm way more into it than she is! She loves it and talks about it and knows all the life stages of the caterpillar (although we keep debating the whole cocoon vs. chrysalis thing. And believe me, that 4 year old can debate!) but I was like a giddy little kid when I saw those butterflies today! I don't think I've been that excited about anything in months!  I can't wait to release the next one. We should have a third in the next couple days because our other pupa in the terrarium was only a day or two behind. And we have one caterpillar that will be ready to pupate soon, and lots of new babies to keep it company! I hope some swallowtails find my parsley so we can see another type of butterfly emerge but so far only the monarch has discovered our little garden.
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  1. Yea!! That is SO exciting, and you've convinced me to make our own hatchery for our monarchs. Sad to see so many of them die out on their own (our last chrysalis was eaten.). Our saddest event is hearing the mosquito guy go by and knowing he's also killing our butterfly friends :( Our garden is out in the open and the swallowtails haven't found it either, so don't feel bad. I have seen tiger swallow tails a handful of times, but they quickly fly away, and same for the other swallowtails. Congratulations on all the new butterflies, and the many to come!

    1. The same thing happened to me a couple years ago with my first attempt at butterfly gardening. They were all eaten. This time I went out and bought a reptile terrarium, but then I found this website:

      You don't need to go out and buy a tank. I could have saved almost $20! Oh well.