A Month of Butterflies.

Whoa! What a month it’s been.  I’ve been so busy with Monarch caterpillars and butterflies, that I haven’t had the time (or inclination, really) to post.  But, I’m back…with mostly pictures and a few comments to go with them. This will take you through the last couple of weeks and the progress of my butterflies.

First..the last of the Swallowtails:

This was my last black Swallowtail. A male.
This was my last black Swallowtail. A male.
So beautiful.
So beautiful.

Even a Summer Azure butterfly came to visit the milkweed flowers:

A tiny butterfly, but so delicate and beautiful.
A tiny butterfly, but so delicate and beautiful.

Meanwhile, back at the rearing cage, my Monarch eggs had hatched, and the first wave of caterpillars had started!

This doesn't even begin to show how many I had!
This doesn’t even begin to show how many I had!
Mister Fattie!
Mister Fattie!
"Hello!"
“Hello!”

I had to move the newest chrysalides  to a different cage because there were just too many, and I didn’t want butterflies emerging over feeding caterpillars. So, a big old Ikea hamper did the trick.

This did the trick.
The Ikea Fyllen laundry basket

I had 9 chrysalides, and  I moved them into the  hamper, tying the silk with dental floss, and then tying it to the mesh on top of the hamper.

This worked fine in theory, but in reality I had a hard time moving butterflies out because the top of the hamper opened up & outward, so any intact chrysalides would jiggle all over the place.  Not a big deal, but annoying.

The butterfly is blurry, but you can see the empty chrysalides on the top.
The butterfly is blurry, but you can see the empty chrysalides on the top.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  
A Monarch chrysalis will turn transparent right before the butterfly ecloses (emerges).
A Monarch chrysalis will turn transparent right before the butterfly ecloses (emerges).Photo courtesy of  http://mbj2010.blogspot.com/2010_08_01_archive.html
This was one of the nine butterflies.
This was one of the nine butterflies.
A big, beautiful male.
A big, beautiful male.

Anyway…here’s a video from my instagram of the butterflies that emerged in the hamper.  (Mexican music in the background is courtesy of my next door neighbors.)

Ready to get the hell outta here! #monarchbutterfly #savethemonarchs #mexico

A video posted by 🌸🐝Lisa🐛🌿 (@colqui11) on

 

That was the first wave of monarchs.  The SECOND wave? Well, it was more like a tsunami!

I'm really not sure, but I think I had 31 chrysalides in all.
I’m really not sure, but I think I had 31 chrysalides in all.

Yep. It was pretty crazy. I had to order another screened cage, as the caterpillars varied so much in age. I had to separate them by size so there would be no cannibalism.  Yeah, it sounds terrible, but when you have too many caterpillars competing for milkweed (which I ALMOST ran out of…even though I have loads growing in the garden)..some will take the easiest route and eat their smaller cage-mates.

So, I separated the big fatties in one cage, and the smaller ones in the other.  Then, when everyone had made their chrysalides, I moved them all to one cage. So, day after day, I’ve had on the average of 5-6 butterflies released.

One of the many!
One of the many!

As I write this post, I let the last 12 butterflies go today. There is only one lonely chrysalis remaining, which will probably eclose tomorrow. These are the butterflies of the last generation. They will be a part of the great migration to the oyamel fir forests in the state of Michoacan, Mexico.

I have so many videos of these babies, I can’t post them all here. But, you can click the link to my instagram  below, or on the sidebar to the right,  they’re all there!

So much easier, right? Click here: https://www.instagram.com/colqui11/

Enjoy!  I’ll be back with the last installment of the butterfly chronicles as soon as my last one emerges. Adios!

 

As Promised: Fat Cats!

Fat Black Swallowtail Cats, that is!

I’ve been waiting for my Monarch butterflies to show up, but since I didn’t get any until August last year, I planted some parsley & dill & rue in my yard to see if I could attract black swallowtails in the interim. These plants, along with fennel and wild carrot (AKA Queen Anne’s Lace) are the host plants of black swallowtail caterpillars.

Well, it worked! I’ve raised and released 5 Black Swallowtail butterflies so far. 4 males & 1 female.  I’ve been on vacation this past week, and since we haven’t traveled this time (Yes, it’s a “staycation”) I’ve had plenty of time to indulge my gardening/butterfly adventures. Here’s the full  deal in chronological order:

Female laying eggs.
If you plant it, they will come! This is a wild female laying eggs on the dill plant.
These are the eggs. See how tiny?
These are the eggs. See how tiny?

Whereas Monarch eggs are oval, Swallowtail eggs are perfectly round, and about the size of the head of a pin. The mama lays them at the tip of the dill plant. Even though I had 3 different host plants, the swallowtails seemed to prefer the dill. I didn’t find any eggs on the rue or the parsley.

The baby cats start out black with a white band in the middle.
The baby cats start out black with a white band in the middle.

Once they hatch, the tiny babies begin to eat like crazy.  I gave them rue and parsley to eat because after a while,  I really couldn’t stand the smell of dill in my kitchen. I don’t even use it when I cook because it does not exist in my spice rack. ANYway…

The cats go through 4 molts or “instars”. The last one being the chrysalis form. Unlike Monarchs, which look the same through all their instars (they just get bigger & fatter!), Black Swallowtail cats look different in every instar.  I couldn’t get a pic of each instar, but here’s a pic from a blog Called “Backyard Biology” (https://bybio.wordpress.com/tag/black-swallowtail/)

Black Swallowtail Development

What a mess!
Voracious little guys!

The picture above shows two of the cats munching away on dill. That black stuff is their poop or “frass”. Since I had seven caterpillars, I also had a lot of frass. A LOT! I used cling wrap and punched holes in it for the stems so the water wouldn’t get fouled from the poop. And, paper towels on the bottom of the cage, which I changed every day to prevent bacterial contamination.

Wow. It was a lot of work. When I had my Monarchs last year, I only had two, and not at the same time.  This was definitely caterpillar overload! Aside from that, the cats just went about their business of eating & pooping, but every time I moved them to clean the cage, out would pop their osmeterium, which is a forked gland they display when they are bothered or perceive danger. I didn’t have my camera handy, so here’s  another ‘net pic:

"Don't bug me!"
“Don’t bug me!”

So, this orange-yellow gland pops out and emits a nasty odor.  Some people think it smells like pineapple, but I think it smells EXACTLY the same as the statin drugs Lovastatin & Pravastatin (remember, I work in pharmacy).  Both of these drugs smell like rotten fruit. Or Black Swallowtail osmeterium stuff.  Can you imagine the stinkiness of seven pissed-off caterpillars? It was epic!

After 8-10 days, the majority of my cats were fat & sassy, and ready to go into chrysalis…

Nighty-night.
Nighty-night.

One by one, they found a place on the sticks I put in the cage. Two of them actually attached to the screen side of the cage.  Two of the chrysalis were bright green…

bschrysalis

And the rest were brown…

This was taken after the butterfly emerged.
This was taken after the butterfly emerged.

And, exactly 8 days after the chrysalis, this is what I woke up to in the morning:

rearingcage

malebs

undersidewings-bsmale
This boy was walking on the roof of the rearing cage…this shows the underside of his wings.

bs-male

There were 4 that emerged at the same time! All males. How could I tell? Black Swallowtail butterflies are sexually dimorphic: the males have yellow banding on the wings, the females have blue on their hind-wings, and are a bit larger than the males.  The undersides of the wings on both sexes are nearly identical.

So, I took them outside and released them into the garden.  But, I still had 2 more chrysalis to go. At this point, I was kind of over the whole black swallowtail thing. Their voracious appetite for smelly dill plants! Their enormous amounts of poop! Their nasty attitude and stinky-stink glands!

Yep. It was a bit much. Until this happened:

O.M.G.
O.M.G.

Have you ever seen anything as beautiful as this girl? She’s number 5, and emerged 2 days ago at around 7 in the morning.  I took the cage outside about an hour later, opened the cage door, snapped this gorgeous pic, and watched her fly away.

So, that’s it for now.  I still have to wait for number 6 to emerge, probably in  a day or two.  Number 7 just went into chrysalis today, so I’ll have another 8 days to wait. And…I thought I might be done, but…maybe not.   I saw one tiny caterpillar on the plants I had put in the vase right before the last two caterpillars went into chrysalis! What the heck. I never even saw the egg! This is the last one for sure!

It has to be, because I have to wash and sterilize the rearing cage. Why?

Well…

Uh-Oh

The Monarchs finally showed up. A month early.  If these eggs make it, and hatch,  I’ll be up to my knees (figuratively speaking) in caterpillar poop. Again!

At least Monarch caterpillars don’t have stink glands &  are adorably cute:

Aww. Hi, cutie-pie!
Aww. Hi, cutie-pie!

Oh, boy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let’s Go Back…

…in time! Well, not TOO far back. Just about a month or so.  An update on what’s been growing on.  I tried to post sooner, but as always, work got in the way. Stupid work! How dare it interfere with my gardening adventures!  But, in order to buy my flowers, I must toil in the pharmacy. I am looking forward to my retirement, which is only another 7 years away!  Maybe. Hopefully.

ANYway, let the time warp begin…..

Mucho Milkweed!
Mucho Milkweed!

Yep. This was the milkweed patch last month. It is a lot fuller now, but unfortunately, I haven’t had any Monarch eggs yet. Maybe next month?

Last month, my Jackmanii Clematis was in all its glory:

Crazy!

Wow!
Wow!

It was PACKED full of blooms. People would actually stop and ask me what I did to get it to bloom like that.  When I tell them all I do is I prune the whole shebang down to a 12″ high bundle of sticks in March, and then leave it completely alone, they can’t believe it.  Neither can I!  But, its glory is short-lived. All the blooms have blown away, and now it’s just green leaves.

The same thing happened to my clems back in the shade garden.  Here’s a lovely, misty pic of the seed heads with the early morning sun shining through…

I love the light!
I love the light!

And of course…in honor of my mom, her Black Prince petunias…this time, mixed with pure white :

Beauty in black & white.
Beauty in black & white.

Here’s a pic of the butterfly garden from a month ago:

One month ago!
I really need to update this!

And here’s a pic of the naughty squirrel who lives in my eave.

"I am surveying my domain, foolish humans!"
“I am surveying my domain, foolish humans!”

He can’t get into the attic, since the eave is separate from the house, but my guy said he would close up the hole in mid June,  which is when baby squirrels (if any) leave the nest.  Well, it’s almost mid July, and you guessed it…the squirrel is still living in my eave.   And, instead of evicting the squirrel, my guy painted the garage door.  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Yep. Beige.
Yep. Beige.

Now…here’s something I tried.  I made a garden gif.  Not a very good one, but it’s a start. I just need practice.  It’s a gif. of my butterfly garden, taken on each Saturday in June. I just have to remember to stand in the same spot when taking pics, so it actually looks like it’s progressing. But anyway…

The first pic in the series is the closer, almost diagonal one.
The first pic in the series is the closer, almost diagonal one.

Gah! I’ll get the hang of it one of these days!

Until then, enjoy my mediocre gif. -making skills, and I leave you with clue to my next post:

“fat cats!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Baby Robins Growing Up

I finally got some pics of the babies in the nest.  As the pictures progress, you’ll see how fast these babies grew.  In little more than a week after my first pics of the babies, they were fully fledged and raring to go.

Always hungry!
Always hungry!
Little sleepyhead.
Little sleepyhead.
Mama, feeding the babies.
Mama, feeding the babies.
Keeping them warm...
Keeping them warm…
Growing up!
Growing up!
This guy must have hatched first. He was always perching on the edge of the nest.
This guy must have hatched first. He was always perching on the edge of the nest.
Young robins are speckled, and at this point, are almost as big as their parents!
Young robins are speckled, and at this point, are almost as big as their parents!
The gang of three, almost ready to go out on their own.
The gang of three, almost ready to go out on their own.

Yesterday, I noticed that the nest was empty. I know that the parents will often encourage the babies to leave the nest, and then spend the day feeding them on the ground, and teaching them how to hunt worms.

After that? I guess they’re on their own.

Hopefully the parents will come back to this nest to raise a new family. If so, you know I’ll be there with my camera ready!

 

 

 

Botanical Eye-Candy.

Just pictures.  Scenes from the garden:

Here's the new butterfly garden, finally filling in.
Here’s the new butterfly garden, finally filling in.
I love the way the light looks in the morning.
I love the way the light looks in the morning.
Martha Washington Geranium in my big front porch pot.
Martha Washington Geranium in my big front porch pot.

And now…let us commence the Clematis Parade:

Clematis "Ice Blue"
 “Ice Blue”
A new clematis: Neva Boulevard
A new clematis: “Neva (Boulevard)”
Clematis "Voluceau"
“Voluceau”
"Rouge Cardinal"
“Rouge Cardinal”
"Jackmanii"
“Jackmanii”
"Elsa Späth"
“Elsa Späth”
"Chantilly" (top) and "Ice Blue"
“Chantilly” (top) and “Ice Blue”
"Huvi"
“Huvi”
"Pink Fantasy"
“Pink Fantasy”
"Comtesse de Bouchaud"
“Comtesse de Bouchaud”

Ok..that’s enough!  How about a bit of wildlife…

An Eastern Black Swallowtail came to visit the garden. He flittered everywhere, and it was really hard to get a pic with his wings open.
An Eastern Black Swallowtail came to visit the garden. He flittered everywhere, and it was really hard to get a pic with his wings open.

We have a robin couple raising a family in the bend of our gutter..

Here's the mama...I want to get a pic of her and the Papa, too.
Here’s the mama.

I would like to get a picture of the Papa helping to feed the babies, but I never seem to have the camera ready when he comes around.  These are the robins that took advantage of the worm festival that happened when my guy dug up the yard. I guess they felt it was a good nesting site…lots of food, water, and the occasional strawberry or slice of orange.

Anyway, I am loving the arrival of warm weather.

My Saturdays are once again spent in the garden. A little slice of heaven!

 

Nostalgia & Mother’s Day

Here’s a pic of my Mom, back in the old neighborhood.

Hi, Mama
Hi, Mama

This photo was taken in 1968, in our backyard, the same year we moved to one of the close-in suburbs. We lived in the Austin neighborhood of Chicago,   the West Side, and it was getting pretty dangerous even then.  We were one of the last white families to leave. After the riots of 1968, we were outta there. Ummm…you don’t want to go into that neighborhood now.  It’s ruined. You’d probably get robbed or shot. Or both.  But back then, in the early 60’s,  it was a wonderful place to grow up. So sad.

But anyway,  this past Mother’s day, my daughter & son-in-law, and our darling little one celebrated with a toast to “Grandy” (that’s what my kids called my mom), and a trip to the plant nursery, where we purchased mucho flowers.

Here are just a few…

A feast for the eyes!
A feast for the eyes!

My granddaughter was very excited, and enjoyed picking out flowers.  Then we came home, had some lunch, and she helped me plant:

My little gardening helper!
My little gardening helper!

She did a very good job.  one of the things she really loved was smelling the lilacs.  I don’t blame her…they smell so delicious.  And they look beautiful, too! Here’s a Red Admiral butterfly enjoying some lilac deliciousness…

Thanks for posing for me!
Thanks for posing for me!

A carpenter bee came to visit, too…

That is one big bee!
That is one big bee!

I cut some lilacs and put them in a little vase…

My whole kitchen was lilac-scented
My whole kitchen was lilac-scented for a while..

But the next day they were all droopy & sad -looking.  Better to keep them outside & attached to the tree, I guess.

So..that was my Mother’s day. Very nostalgic,  full of love and lots of fun!

Who could ask for more?

 

We’ve Been Busy…

….So busy that I haven’t had time to post. But now, I have a day off work, and I’ll show you what we’ve been up to here at the garden. (Be warned…there are LOTS of pictures!)

First, my guy decided that the lawn in the back was horrific. A bazillion different types of grass growing…all shapes and sizes.  This was my fault.  In the winter,  I used to scatter birdseed on the snow…never thinking that the leftovers would end up on the grass & sprout after the snow melted. DUH!

So, after making me feel a bit guilty,  he decided to rip out the lawn. Yes, you heard that right. The WHOLE back lawn.  This would give him the opportunity to level the yard, which had a huge hill in the middle.

Oh, boy. Here’s the whole deal in pictures:

The grass was dug up, and the robins had a field day hunting worms. worms
The grass was dug up, and the robins had a field day hunting worms.

robgrass1

Such a handsome boy!
Such a handsome boy!
And such a pretty girl!
And such a pretty girl!

So, all the grass was finally out, and he started to grade the dirt ….

 

See the lawn bags to the right? They were filled with grass. I have to tip my hat to my town, the guys who drive the yard-waste truck took every bag, no problem.
See the lawn bags to the right? They were filled with grass. I have to tip my hat to my town, the guys who drive the yard-waste truck took every bag, no problem.

Speaking of dirt…here’s the mound of it I had in front of the garage:

It looks like someone shot an elephant & threw a tarp over it!
It looks like someone shot an elephant & threw a tarp over it!

Yes, it was a HUGE amount of dirt. Luckily, we used a lot of it for the flower beds, and since our neighbors had begun their gardens, we told them to come by and take as many wheelbarrows full as they wanted.  Our friend across the street was putting in 3 raised vegetable beds, so he used almost all of it! (Thanks, Nick!)  So, things were humming along until…..

…we ran into THIS:

Can you see it?
Can you see it?

Right there…in the middle, was a HUGE stump!

From huge pine tree. Gone, but not forgotten.
From the big old pine tree we had cut down 4 years ago.  Gone, but not forgotten.

Oh, we were dismayed. My guy started digging a trench around it so he could break it up:

Work that shovel!
Work that shovel!
King of the Hill. (Ummm....make that King of the Stump.)
King of the Hill. (make that King of the Stump.)

The birds were not interested in the human and his hard work. They came for the worms…

robclose

Even Mister showed up!
Even Mister showed up!
"What you lookin' at?"
“What you lookin’ at?”
"Worms...I am coming for you!"
“Worms…I am coming for you!”
There's enough for everyone!
There’s enough for everyone!

I was really happy to get these pics. I didn’t even have to zoom too much. All this digging business had taken place over the course of a week, and the birds had gotten used to us being there.

Anyway,  my guy had a small electric saw, but it was no match for that huge stump. So the next day….

Not a very flattering angle. Wait. Maybe it is! Heh-heh.
(Not a very flattering angle. Wait. Maybe it is! Heh-heh.)

….he rented a chainsaw from Home Depot and made that stump his bitch!

'Adios, bee-otch!"

Adios, stump!

After the stump had been defeated, the hole was filled, and it was off to the yard store to buy retaining wall blocks. You see, my man had a plan!

The blocks were on sale for 0.89¢ a piece. Such a deal!
The blocks were on sale for 0.89¢ a piece. Such a deal!

Long story short, here’s the finished product!

Before....
Before….

And……

After!
After!

Wow. What a difference! My guy took a trip to the sod farm and got fresh cut sod. Isn’t it gorgeous?  Take a look at the section to the left of the birdbath. Remember  the flagstone patio with the chairs?  Well, it’s gone, and in it’s place is my new butterfly garden!  I’m so excited to fill it up. I’ve already ordered a hummingbird feeder, and planted a Dropmore Scarlet Honeysuckle vine.

I think it’s going to be a lovely summer!