Our hearts are with the victims and what we can do to help.
But we briefly stepped out in the backyard yesterday (Oct. 10) in Vacaville to see a sun and sky we did not recognize. Nearby, the brightly colored orange Gulf Fritillary butterlifes (Agraulis vanillae) continued their life cycle on the passionflower vine (Passiflora), their host plant. So unreal to see:
- An egg on the tendrils.
- A caterpillar munching leaves.
- A newly eclosed Gulf Fritillary clinging to its pupal case.
- An adult spreading its wings in the eerie light, ready to start the process all over again.
Mother Nature is not kind. Neither is Father Time./span>
Didn't they get the memo?
So we brought them in, zipped them into our mesh butterfly habitat from the Bohart Museum of Entomology, UC Davis, and began feeding them the last of the milkweed.
Would they make it? Maybe.
"I'm Dreaming of a Green Chrysalid..."
The first caterpillar formed a J.
"It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Chrysalis."
A gold-rimmed jade green chrysalis appeared, looking very much like a Christmas tree ornament or a precious gem.
"It's Chrysalis Time in the City..."
Soon, 10 more chrysalids formed. One more to go. Look, No. 12, don't get into a mid-life chrysalis or anything. Do your thing. Please.
Finally, on Dec. 15, the last caterpillar pupated. Twelve chrysalids.
And just like magic (Nature's magic), a stream of butterflies began eclosing. Today we have five monarch butterflies and seven chrysalids.
We expect more eclosures. There may be a Tiny Tim among them. That happens. But no sign of the protozoan parasite, Ophryocystis elektroscirrha (OE) or tachinid flies that make the most of the "hostest with the mostest" (they lay their eggs in the caterpillars and eat the host from the inside out).
What to do with the five monarchs? It's rainy and cold. Wait for a warmer day and release them? Help them along by traveling to an overwintering site? Offer them "bed and breakfast" at the Bohart?
Meanwhile, “Christmas” and "Chrysalis" seem inseparable.
We're no longer "dreaming of a white Christmas" here in central California. Our Christmas is green (chrysalids) and orange (adults.)
Happy holidays to all!
They didn't get the memo.
Summer is over. Fall is underway. Winter is coming (Dec. 21).
But the Gulf Fritillaries (Agraulis vanillae) are still laying eggs on the passionflower vine here in Vacaville, Calif. The eggs are hatching. The caterpillars are eating. The 'cats are pupating. And the adults are eclosing from the chrysalids.
And then the cycle of life begins all over again: from egg to caterpillar to chrysalis to adult.
Actually, we've seen Gulf Frits here year around--even photographed them laying eggs on Christmas Day. Gulf Frits don't go through diapause here. They mate year around.
Of course, the survival rate is low. An estimated 95 percent of all butterflies don't make it from egg to adult, scientists say.
We've seen why. Spiders, praying mantids, yellowjackets, European paper wasps, birds, diseases, and such parasitoids as tachinid flies and wasps that lay their eggs in the caterpillars or bore into the chrysalids.
If you look closely, you can sometimes see the parasitoid evidence (hole), such as the one below. Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology and an expert on butterflies, says that judging by the size of this hole, it was a large parasitoid--probably a big tachinid fly or an ichneumonid (wasp).
Just part of the cycle of life...
For the last several months, we've seen monarchs laying eggs on our narrow-leafed milkweed.
A daily check yielded "zero" caterpillars. Zero. Nada. Zilch. One reason is apparent: two nearby nests of Western scrub jays filled with chirping babies. Birds aren't known for eating a large quantity of monarch caterpillars--they don't taste good--but they will still eat a few.
They didn't eat this one.
It was tucked away, hidden from sight. Then we found another caterpillar, also hidden.
In the interests of conservation--and to prevent predation--we placed them inside our indoor butterfly habitat, purchased last year from the gift shop at the Bohart Museum of Entomology, the University of California, Davis.
The rest, as they say, is history and herstory. A male eclosed from the first chrysalis, and a female from the second.
It's one of Nature's miracles. From an egg, to a caterpillar to a chrysalis to an adult Danaus plexippus.
One week, it's a hungry fifth-instar caterpillar...then it's a gold-dotted, jade-green chrysalis, a joy to see. When the chrysalis turns transparent, you can make out the colorful butterfly inside--Nature's gift that's soon to eclose.
From chrysalis to adult, the male took 10 days.
From chrysalis to adult, the female took 9 days.
We've already released the male. He soared high into the sky, at least 80 feet, and headed for an oak tree as a Western scrub jay eyed him. Whew! The predator did not pursue him.
The second monarch, the female, just eclosed this afternoon. It's Freedom Day tomorrow.
Where have you been?
For the last several weeks, we've been watching for signs of the first seasonal monarch caterpillar on our narrow-leafed milkweed.
The lush leaves refused to yield any secrets. They looked untouched, undisturbed and intact. But on June 15, there it was, a not-so-little caterpillar munching away as if it had been there all along.
Where have you been?
How it managed to survive is puzzling. A Western scrub jay nest is about two feet away and we can hear the baby birds chirping throughout the day. Then the mother obligingly swoops down into the "supermarket" pollinator garden and grabs fresh food for them. We've seen her--and photographed her--plucking a Gulf Fritillary caterpillar from the passionflower vine. We've seen her perching on a flower pot and nailing bees. We've seen her flying back to her nest.
So, this not-so-little caterpillar, a sole survivor, overcame incredible odds. Butterfly guru Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at UC Davis, says that probably fewer than 10 percent make it from egg to adult. (And that's without a bird nest two feet away!)
In the interests of conservation, the monarch caterpillar is now safely housed in our butterfly habitat as we wait for it to form a chrysalis and emerge as an adult. Then we'll release it. It may soar 80 feet in the air, as others have done, or it may linger in the pollinator garden, or it may decline to fly away from our outstretched hand.
The parents will never meet the offspring, and the offspring will never meet its parents.
Nevertheless, Sunday, June 19 is Father's Day. Dad, you did good! And you, too, Mom!