Unless it encounters a predator or parasitoid or another life-threatening factor, the egg will usually hatch 3 to 4 days after Mama Monarch deposits it beneath a milkweed leaf. As you know, monarchs lay their eggs only on milkweed, their host plant.
If you enjoy macro photography, it's a delight to photograph an egg with a highly specialized lens like the Canon MPE-65mm lens. Or you can observe the tiny egg with a magnifying glass or microscope.
How do you rear it?
Naturalist Greg Kareofelas, an associate of the Bohart Museum of Entomology at the University of California, does it this way:
"I put a single egg on its leaf in a small salsa container (the little plastic ones you would get at a Mexican restaurant). I take a square of toilet paper and fold it into a small square (3/4 of inch), dampen it and squeeze it so it is not sopping wet, just damp, and set the leaf and egg on the top. Put the lid tightly on the container. This keeps a level of moisture in the container. I check the containers daily, changing the toilet paper square to keep from molding."
"I raise the larva in that container until it gets big enough to move to a larger container. As long as you pay attention and check them often to make sure there is no mold or such, I have raised many this way successfully. The tight lid and slight moisture keeps the food plant fresher."
"You don't want loose water in the container, just enough so it is not dry," he says.
Among the many species of butterflies he's reared: the dogface butterfly or California state insect, Zerene eurydice; the Colias behrii, the Behr's sulphur or Sierra green sulfur; and the monarch, Danaus plexippus.
When our family rears monarchs, we usually begin with the caterpillars instead of the eggs. They're easier to find and collect. However, if you see a monarch laying her eggs, you know exactly where to look! Last weekend we watched a monarch deposit her eggs on our tropical milkweed, Asclepias curassavica, and our narrow-leaf milkweed, Asclepias fascicularis. We collected three eggs from the fascicularis and let the others be.
An adult monarch can lay about 400 eggs in her lifetime, Kareofelas says. Only a few survive due to predators and parasitoids and other factors. The major parasitoid in our garden is the tachinid fly which lays its eggs in or on the host or deposits its eggs on the milkweed leaves.
"If you start with the egg, the chance of it being parasitized is really small," says Kareofelas, who has been rearing butterflies most of his life, and especially for the last 15 years.
When the egg hatches into a larva or caterpillar, the 'cat will eat the eggshell first and then go about munching the milkweed. When it gets bigger, it's time to move it into a larger container. You must keep the milkweed fresh, as it can dry out quickly. Kareofelas likes to use water-filled floral tubes and dampened packing foam to keep the leaves/stems moist.
Our family's procedure to rear caterpillars: fill a heavy, wide-bottomed, narrow-necked tequila bottle with water, add sprigs of milkweed and the 'cats, and place in a zippered, net butterfly habitat. We place ours in our kitchen, a tachnid-free environment! Those tachnids can be sneaky! Also, replenish your milkweed and water daily, and remove the frass (excreta) daily.
It's a joy watching the complete metamorphosis, about a 30-day development from egg to larva to chrysalis to adult. The larval stage or caterpillar stage usually lasts 10 to 14 days, during which time the caterpillar will go through five instars (when it molts or sheds it skin). The 'cat will then form a "j" and pupate. The chrysalis stage lasts about 10 to 14 days, and voila! The familiar monarch icon ecloses and it's released back into the garden to start the cycle all over again.
Yes, it's a joy to watch them. But it's not a joy watching a tachnid-infested monarch caterpillar or a chrysalis. (We'd rather the tachnids lay their eggs in such pests as cabbage loopers or tomato hornworms.)
A good place to see butterfly specimens from all over the world is the Bohart Museum of Entomology (now temporarily closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Of the nearly eight million specimens in the Bohart, some 500,000 are in the Lepidoptera collection, curated by entomologist Jeff Smith. He and Kareofelas display and discuss the Lepidopterans during the open houses. In the meantime, watch the moth-butterfly videos on the Bohart Museum page.)
She probably eats a lot of mosquitoes.
After all, we just observed National Mosquito Control Awareness Week, June 21-27, didn't we?
We spotted this female widow skimmer dragonfly (Libellula luctuosa) on Friday morning, June 26 in the Ruth Risdon Storer Garden of the UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden. She flashed her steel-blue coloring and her black basal-banded wings as she zig-zagged from one perch to the other, catching and consuming flying insects.
Naturalist-photographer Greg Kareofelas, an associate of the Bohart Museum of Entomology, UC Davis, identified the gender and confirmed the species. "I think this is a very good year for them," he told us. Last week he and a colleague observed many widow skimmers, both male and female, in West Davis.
"The species name means sorrowful or mournful, perhaps because the wings of both male and female seem to be draped in mourning crepe," according to BugGuide.Net. "Females and immature males have the same brown wing bands as the mature males, but not the whitish areas. Wings usually have a brown tip. A dorsal view of the abdomen shows a brown band at center with a yellow stripe running along each side."
Widow skimmers are found throughout the United States except for the Rocky Mountain region, says BugGuide.Net. Their range also includes southern Ontario and Quebec.
Locally, look for these dragonflies near Putah Creek, which flows through the 100-acre UC Davis Arboretum. These species are most commonly seen in the summer, and what a treat to see.
Mosquitoes might think otherwise, though.
Ann Sievers, owner, grower and miller of Il Fiorello Olive Oil Co., located at 2625 Mankas Corner Road, Fairfield, recently found and photographed this "lovely beast" on an outdoor patio wall.
Shapiro identified it as “Eumorpha achemon, the Achemon Sphinx. Fairly uncommon. The very large caterpillar, which has several color phases, eats both wild and cultivated grapes (leaves only) and is never common enough to be considered a pest. Lovely beast!”
Shapiro, known for his expertise on moths and butterflies, has been monitoring butterflies of Northern California since 1972 and maintains a research website on the butterflies that pass through his transects.
The larvae of the Achemon Sphinx moth, are sometimes called the "grape sphinx" for good reason: they feed on grape leaves. The caterpillars are huge (about three-and-a-half-inches long) and vary in color from light green to reddish orange, to brown.
Sievers' chickens that roam the Il Fiorello grounds in the daytime (they're “cooped up” at night to protect them from predators like coyotes) occasionally find and feast on caterpillars and other bugs. And grapevines grow by another pen of chickens. Chow time!
Naturalist and photographer Greg Kareofelas of Davis, an associate of the Bohart Museum of Entomology, says he finds the caterpillars on "the native grape (Vitus californica) growing in my yard."
"Because it did use the native grapes as a host, it is a 'resident native,' of the area," he observed.
The Bohart Museum, located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building UC Davis campus, annuals hosts a Moth Night (see preview story from 2019) but the coronavirus pandemic precautions may turn this year's Moth Night into a virtual one.
Entomologist Jeff Smith, who curates the Bohart Museum's Lepitoptera section, says "we probably have 2.5 drawers of the Grapevine Sphinx. It's found all across the U.S. but never particularly common in our region. Hindwings are a really attractive pink. This is one of 11 species in the genus Eumorpha, but the only species in California."
Yes, they do, and yes, she did.
Painted lady butterflies, Vanessa cardui, do lay their eggs on Echium wildpretii, commonly known as "the tower of jewels."
However, this little lady (below) persistently returned a few times to find a bee-free spot. She finally claimed a chunk of space near the top of the 8-foot plant.
Temporarily. Until the bees reclaimed it.
"Echium is a borage," says butterfly guru Art Shapiro, UC Davis distinguished professor of evolution and ecology. "Boraginaceae are one of the favored host families, so I'm not surprised."
"They routinely breed on fiddleneck and popcorn flower," Shapiro says. "in 2015 they completely destroyed the borage crop at an herb farm in Solano County!" He recently saw them lay eggs on Helianthus, Cardooon (artichoke thistle) and Lupinus succulentus.
"It's been a pretty good cardui year but not as big as last year," said Shapiro, who has monitored the butterfly population in Central California since 1972 and publishes his research on his website. "They've been coming in waves for several weeks and there are still some, mostly old females ovipositing."
Said Bohart Museum of Entomology associate Greg Kareofelas, a naturalist and insect photographer: "Vanessa cardui probably has the greatest range of host plants as any butterfly. My question always is: What plant, won't it lay eggs on?"
She donned her special outfit, a blue butterfly cape, and headed over to the open house at the Bohart Museum of Entomology, University of California, Davis, to “see the blue butterflies.”
The event, held Saturday afternoon, Jan. 18, primarily featured the research of six doctoral students: Charlotte Herbert Alberts, Yao Cai, Alexander Dedmon, Zachary Griebenow, Crystal Homicz and Ann Holmes. (See Bug Squad blog)
But it was also a time to view the butterflies and moths in the Lepidoptera collection, curated by entomologist Jeff Smith. He and fellow Bohart associate Greg Kareofelas spent three hours discussing the amazing world of butterflies and answering questions about the Lepidoptera collection, which totals nearly 500,000 specimens.
Tien loved seeing the bright blue morpho butterflies. She gleefully spread her wings and smiled delightedly.
Then Brownie Girl Scout Troop 5520 of West Sacramento toured the insect museum. They came prepared. Prior to the tour, they met in the lobby of the Academic Surge building to discuss and share their newly created posters about insects. Lauren Wells, 7, of West Sacramento chose the praying mantis.
Lauren and fellow Brownie Girl Scout member Madeline Louis, 8, of West Sacramento, marveled at the worldwide collection of butterfly specimens and listened eagerly as Kareofelas discussed the tropical ones.
“Our troop, including all of the parents raved about how much fun they had at the Bohart,” said parent Lisa Wells of UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. "I think everyone was really surprised by how much fun they had and learned. Great place! In fact, a few parents claimed that it was our best troop outing ever in over 3 years.”
Other visitors drawn to the Lep section included Savanna Miller, 7, and her sister, Olivia, 4, of Vacaville. Their grandmother, retired teacher Genny Miller, accompanied them.
Little Olivia gazed at the first opened drawer and pronounced: “They're dead! They're all dead!”
The scientists assured her that yes, they are; that the butterflies are specimens; and that the Bohart Museum houses nearly eight million specimens for educational and scientific purposes (research). The specimens include the iconic monarch (Danaus plexippus); the lookalike viceroy (Limenitis archippus); the California state insect, the dogface butterfly (Zerene eurydice) and the extinct Xerces blue (Glaucopsyche xerces).
When the scientists explained how butterflies fly, Savanna and Olivia listened raptly. They then correctly imitated the flight of a butterfly as bystanders smiled approvingly. "That's how they fly! Well done!"
The Bohart Museum, located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane, is directed by professor Lynn Kimsey of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. Founded by noted entomologist Richard M. Bohart (1913-2007), it not only houses nearly eight million insect specimens but a live "petting zoo" that includes Madagascar hissing cockroaches, walking sticks and tarantulas. Its year-around gift shop is stocked with books, insect-themed t-shirts and sweatshirts, jewelry, insect-collecting equipment and insect-themed candy.
The Bohart Museum is open to the public Mondays through Thursdays from 9 a.m. to noon and 1 to 5 p.m., except on holidays. More information on the Bohart Museum is available on the website at http://bohart.ucdavis.edu or by contacting (530) 752-0493 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Meanwhile, Bohart Museum officials are gearing up for the ninth annual UC Davis Biodiversity Museum Day, set Saturday, Feb. 15. Featuring 13 museums or collections, the science-based event offers an opportunity for visitors of all ages to meet and talk with UC Davis scientists—from undergraduates to staff to emeriti professors. It is free and family friendly.
Participants in the Feb. 15th Biodiversity Museum Day:
- Arboretum and Public Garden
- Bohart Museum of Entomology
- Botanical Conservatory
- California Raptor Center
- Center for Plant Diversity
- Department of Anthropology Museum
- Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven
- Marine Invertebrate Collection (not linked)
- Museum of Wildlife and Fish Biology
- Nematode Collection
- Paleontology Collection
- Phaff Yeast Culture Collection
- Viticulture Enology Culture Collection
The 13 museums or collections represent nine departments, all within walking distance on campus except the Raptor Center on Old Davis Road and the bee garden on Bee Biology Road. The UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology will showcase three museums or collections: Bohart Museum of Entomology, the Honey Bee Haven, and the Nematode Collection.