Monday, September 13, 2010

Monarch's on the fly,Sept.10th,2010

I did a hawk watch in Toronto on Sept. 7-8 & 9. It was amazing. 1st photo shows a beautiful female northern harrier on the fly and below her in the right lower corner is a migrating monarch butterfly. Also what was amazing was the monarch's that were migrating. They were everywhere. A few photos I managed to get of them flying all around us along with the hawks. Unfortunately one actually got taken out by a passing hawk. The hawks are migrating and are moving very fast. It was in the line of fire as the hawk flew by. It got hit and went down. Pretty incredible. Also very sad. They were seen by the hundred's by a man who stopped by the hawk watch in the trees by a marina. We never did find them. They may have left by that point. These monarch's are in the process of migrating to the high mountains in Mexico. An incredible journey.

All photos copyright by: Jennifer Howard
Nature Works Photography

Monday, August 30, 2010

The egg to a caterpillar to the butterfly!

In the early summer you can find these tiny eggs if you are lucky on milkweed plants. They are laid by the monarch on the underside of the milkweed leaf. Milkweed is the monarch butterflies host plant,meaning the only plant to which it can survive on as a caterpillar. If the egg is laid on another plant it will not survive. Milkweeds are found in fields,around wetlands or lakes. In ditches. And are often cut down when the ditches are cut ,with them the monarchs eggs and or caterpillars. The monarch is on the species at risk list. It spends it's winter in the Mexico mountains. Yes thats right. It is the only butterfly that actually migrates. On the first week of March they come down out of the mountains fir trees to mate. And start their long journey north again. They start arriving here in late May seeing more and more into late June and early July. Then the cycle starts all over again. A pretty amazing butterfly.

Here is the journey of one monarch's tiny egg I rescues from some dead plants.

July 17th

Put the milkweed leaf into a container ,the egg on the underside of the leaf.

July 19th

Checked the leaf tonight and the egg has hatched. Tiny little caterpillar on the underside of the leaf eating away. I saw the crescent shape hole in the leaf & I knew it had hatched. And I saw the tiny frass ( caterpillar poop) as well on the floor of the container.

July 22nd

The larvae did it's first shed today. Looked like a lot of work for the little guy. He stopped frequently to take a much needed rest through out. After about a half hour he started working again. When he was completed he went to the top of the container and walked around. Then proceeded to the bottom and found some fresh milkweed leaves waiting for him. He now has his first set of tiny antennas.

July 23rd

Put in a new leaf today. In the early evening I noticed the larvae heading to the top of the container again. Got to half way up the side and stopped and spent the night there.

July 24th

8 am. Still on the side of the container.

July 26th

Back down. Put new milkweed leaf in and he is chowing down.

July 27th

Has slowed right down on his eating and is half way up the container wall again. Is about 1 inch now.

July 28th

Seems like this guy has done another shed,his second now. The black skin that was shed is hanging on the side of the container. He is hanging below it. And is a bit bigger. Put in a fresh milkweed leaf.

July 29th

After it's shed yesterday and eating almost a whole leaf. This guy is getting bigger quickly now.

July 30th

This caterpillar is getting very big. Frass is getting greener and bigger. Had to clean him today and give fresh leaves. Has gone to the side of the container again for another shedding of it's skin. They stop eating for a while before they prepare to shed their skin.

August 1st.

Another shed complete and another new leaf put in.

August 3rd.

Eating like crazy now. I have had to go out and find unhosted milkweed plants to pick leaves for this guy. I washed them,put them into a baggy and into the fridge.

August 4th

Really eating today. Ate 3 leaves. Really growing. PM has stopped eating. Is over 2 inches now and pooping like crazy too.

August 5th

Did not touch the new leaf I put in last night. Has gone to the top of the container but not in a J position. Is right across the top lid.
3 pm.
Seems to possibly be shedding again. Has butt end attached to the lid now and hanging in a J.

August 6th

Appears to still be shedding at 3pm. You can see the caterpillar moving as it pushes the skin down. Like a person pushing to do scrunches. I left the room for only 5 min. maybe and came back and it was gone. I took a better look and there it was at the bottom of the container by the leaf. It was halfway into it's chrysalis. And was having trouble. Should be hanging. I managed to gently get it onto a soft leaf to finish it's journey. Which it did. I sat with it and as soon as I could I lifted it gently . It took about an hour or so before I could move it. I touched the black stem and it pulsed from inside. So I left it longer. It pulsed for a bit before I could touch it. I didn't want anything to happen to this poor guy after all this hard work. I got Jeff ( my son) to help me. I tied a black pc. of sewing thread to the chrysalis stem and we tied it up to hang from a branch. Like it would have been. And put it in a safe place in my house. Should emerge in 10 days approx.

August 17th

11 days later.
Chrysalis turned black overnight. Will hatch today. A bit of shaking going on with the chrysalis.


Continuing to darken


Orange wings darkening & really orange in color. Some deep orange patches showing up on the sides of the back.


Wing color lightening,moving up towards the top of the chrysalis.


Color of the wings now lighter and fuller looking. White marking very prominent.


Chrysalis is clear & butterfly is darkening again. Markings really standing out and beautiful.


Color fading a bit. Almost looks like the chrysalis is starting to pull away & loosen up!
Gold spots on the bottom are really golden now.


Starting to emerge. Chrysalis starting to split up the sides from the bottom. Butterfly pushing and actually slid out from the bottom and carefully climbed out hanging onto the chrysalis. Crawled up the side of it and held onto it. Wings are very crumpled and small. Body very swollen and pulsating. The butterfly now has to take it's energy and pump it's bloody bodily fluids from it's swollen body into it's small wings. As it does this the wings will stretch out and grow to the full size. The butterfly will get stronger.


Antennae are almost strong now. Still hanging onto the chrysalis. Wings look full size now. Has been rubbing it's tongue constantly as this process has been taking place.


Started to drop some bloody fluid from it's body cavity. A normal procedure. Hanging quietly.


A bit of moving around. Antenna are now strong and straight.


More fluid dropping from it's body. A bit of movement with the butterfly.


More bloody fluid being passed and butterfly is now getting restless.


Took container outside. It immediately climbed to the top of the container. Enjoying the warm sun of the afternoon.


Butterfly still here. It has flown a short distance onto the wicker loveseat.


It flew to the garden. Does not seem to steady. I was hoping it didn't get inured as it fell going into a chrysalis. But I am not sure now.?
As darkness comes upon us the butterfly is still there.

August 18th


Butterfly still here and has not moved. It sees fine when we approach it. And it shivers a bit. But has not flown. It did come out late yesterday however. So I am not giving up on it yet. I went and picked a flower and held it in front of the monarch. It immediately walked to the flower and sat. It seemed quite content at that moment. I had to go out for a while. When I got back at 2pm. Butterfly was gone. Success after all. I was so relieved. And happy it had made it.

After watching the process they go through to become a monarch butterfly. The amount they eat,shed and the work to become that fully fledged butterfly. I have a great respect for the little things. They even migrate. They are in a word. INCREDIBLE!

August 30th

Am seeing monarchs everywhere now starting their migration to Mexico. In my garden,in the middle of the lake,far from land. Their journey has only really just begun. We wish these incredible little beings a safe and strong trip and hope to see the numbers come back next year!! So next time you think we have it tough. Look at this beautiful butterfly. It's tiny little egg that you can bearly see the size of a pin head. The tiny caterpillar that eats and grows and eats and grows and sheds it's skin over and over as it grows expanding so much energy. The amazingly beautiful lime green with golden trim chrysalis that is the work of art only this caterpillar can do. And the hard work of the grand finally. The emerging butterfly. The transformation of it's body from the small fragile being that emerges to the magnificent beautiful monarch it turns into. And finally. The very long journey it make to Mexico were it lives all winter in the fur trees, Maybe getting wiped out by a cold spell or a rain storm over there. The warmth reappears,the monarchs get that signal that it must move down and mate. And the plight begins all over again. And these tiny little beings make it back to our awaiting flowers so that we can see their beauty again for another season. And we think we have it rough!

Doing the shed.

This one is doing a shed. Not the last one but one along the way. A lot of work and you don't see the skin coming off with the naked eye until after it falls. Then he goes back to the milkweed and starts to eat some more and get even bigger for the next stage.

Shedding & eating

As the caterpillar sheds it goes through all sorts of positions to do so. Twisting and curling. Is a time consuming hard thing for it to go through. For a little being it goes through a lot of hard work and stages to become a monarch butterfly.
As it eats,when it is very small and has just emerged from it's egg. You will see a half circle shape in the milkweed leaf alerting you to it's becoming a caterpillar. They are very tiny at first. But grow very quickly.


We are looking at 2 different caterpillars here. One going through a shed and one eating and getting very big.

Caterpillar into chrysalis.

As the caterpillar eats to get big enough to move on it will devour sometimes a whole milkweed plant. It then hangs in a J formation and goes through it's last shed. Then the chrysalis will appear. The most beautiful lime green with gold trim. A real work of art.

Chrysalis changing

As the chrysalis changes you will see the color changing.

The chrysalis

As it progresses the chrysalis turns dark and then almost black and clear right before. You can actually see the butterfly changing inside as it gets ready to emerge.

Emerging in the process.

On the 11th day after going into the chrysalis this butterfly starts to emerge into it's new life. It took a good 3 hours for it to complete it's journey. As you can see the wings are very small when it emerges. It immediately climbs onto the open chrysalis.

Butterfly emerges

The butterfly emerges from the chrysalis, as it's wings become full it pumps the bloody liquid through the wings from the swollen body. This creates a little bit of fluid to drop from the body.

August 17

From the close up of the wing to the eye to the beautiful butterfly fresh on the flower. These butterflies are amazing. Although this butterfly came out late in the day and it was over night before it moved on. I put a flower in front of it and it crawled onto the petals right away. Then spent the night there. It left to it's freedom the next afternoon.