Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Monarch Caterpillar shedding it’s skin 2.26.13

The plants in the Butterfly House were getting short on leaves and it needed cleaning.

I removed all the pots….vacuumed the droppings off the bottom and washed the tray the plants sit in….put a Giant Milkweed in the tray and several of the smaller plants that still had leaves and caterpillars.

The caterpillars on the Giant Milkweed that is going back outside had about 15 caterpillars on it. They had to be moved to the new one. I don’t move them unless I see them crawling or eating. When they sit still for a long period of time…they are usually getting ready to shed their skin. They have their hind feet anchored and if moved at this time, they could die. (I found that out the hard way. ) If the skin of the hind feet isn’t anchored they are unable to get out of it and then they die.

This caterpillar was the only one that didn’t move, other than to rock back and forth…a sign it is going to shed.


I picked the leaf and set it on a table where I could watch it. I noticed the skin behind the head was a lighter yellow…the process had started.


In the video you can see it rocking side to side. It does that for awhile. I started filming at 8:06 and it was almost 11:00 before it was completely out. I edited it to keep it shorter.

Once you see it start to ripple it’s body, it is moving the skin to the rear. When I move the leaf, the skin is about half way back and you can see how the old skin is anchored to the leaf. It’s back feet come free about the same time as it is able to knock off the old face. When I turn the leaf again, you can see the pile of shed skin.

They do this about 5 times.  Many climb on a dead branch, the side of the pot or on the screen of the Butterfly House. Outside they could be anywhere. I think they try to be in a spot that doesn’t get a lot of traffic. They are very vulnerable during this time. It seems like they eat for a day…sit for a day…shed skin and eat again. During the summer it takes about 9 days for them to get big and pupate. Once they shed it seems like they double in size in no time at all.

Hope you enjoyed the video….again…no matter how many times I get to watch this…I am still amazed.


Friday, February 22, 2013

Monarch Caterpillar pupating 2.22.13

Before we went on our last boating trip on the St Johns River, I found 8 tiny hatchlings. I put them and half a dozen plants in the Butterfly House.

When we got back they were about an inch long.  It only took a few more days and they were this size. It doesn’t take long for them to eat all the leaves. There are 11 in this picture so there must have been a few eggs on the plants when I put them in.


A few days later …… 6 went to the top. By the next morning they were in “J”s. I think it takes about 24 hrs for them to get to the pupating stage. You can see 1 in Chrysalis and 5 more Js. The other 4 have just gone up and will need to make a web to suspend themselves from.


Look at this one….skin is so tight it looks like it’s wearing a rubber suit.


I only found 2 Queen caterpillars. This is one…it’s only about 3/4 inch long. The other is about half that. Similar colors…different pattern and extra feelers.


I have a video below on this caterpillar. Notice how the feelers still have a lot of curve and shape to them, but starting to show some “wilt” in the right one. That is a sign they are going to pupate. They will eventually hang down and start to get wrinkled.


I had my camera all set up and started videoing. Just as it got to this point my batteries went dead…I stuck them in the charger for a few minutes and got it up and running.  This is the last picture I took before switching back to video. Notice the feelers.

You can see the difference between the two in the next picture. Theirs still have a lot of shape and will be a few hours more.


I took this picture out of the video. It had just shed it’s skin and was still gyrating.


Same one a few hours later…..isn’t it beautiful?  What a difference. I never realized it before…but you can actually see lines like there will be  in the wings.


The 6  “J”s are now in Chrysalis form and 9 more caterpillars have gone to the top.  There are 3 more big enough to go up this afternoon or tomorrow morning. That only leaves about 20 of various size to keep on eating.

Enjoy the video. No mater how many times I get to watch them….it still amazes me.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Sunday 2.17.13

We’ve had an easy winter…so far….saw 38* on my thermometer on the rear deck this morning. It’s now reading 52*.

Wood stove has been going steady all night. Kept it at 65* inside. If it were inside instead of in the Florida/screen room, it would do a better job…but we don’t have many nights in the 30’s. With it in the screen room I can have a fire in the morning, even during the summer…and by 10am I can have all the doors open.

Wood rack is full for tonight. Fire going and sun shining into the screen room is making it nice and warm. I have the thru wall vent fan going, drawing heat inside.  Almost 72* in here now….but the sun will be going behind the trees shortly…and it will cool off in a hurry.

I love cooking on it. Made pot roast yesterday. Great for spaghetti sauce too, and any thing that needs to simmer awhile.


My Bottlebrush bushes are full of buds and a day of rain has started it blooming. This smaller one is in the back yard and the Painted Buntings love it for cover while taking turns at the feeders. I have 4 feeders here. 2 on the pole and 2 just to the right of the big tree. One is a platform on a cable for the squirrels. They can run out the cable and avoid the cats. The Red Bellied Woodpeckers, Titmice and Cardinals share it with them.  The other is a platform feeder on a PVC pole. We set that up for the Doves so they wont need to feed on the ground..also to avoid cats.

The Bottlebrush would be bushy all the way to the ground but I keep it cleared so the cats cant hide under it.


The two in the front yard may as well be called trees, they are that big. You can see all the buds on this one. My 2 smaller ones have buds but no blooms.


My Tangelo and Navel citrus trees are budding…..a freeze could kill all the buds on them and on the Bottlebrush.


I’ll be out early in the morning hosing all the trees and plants down. If there is a frost and you can rinse them off before the sun hits them, sometimes you can save them.

I’ve several caterpillars in my Butterfly House.


There are at least 18 Monarchs that are about an inch long, and 7 tiny hatchlings. If I’ve counted that many you can add several more. It’s hard to see them all, even the big ones.


It will be another 5 or 6 days before any of them will head to the top to pupate and then another 11 or 12 days in the Chrysalis before they emerge as butterflies. It’s a fun process to watch. During warm weather, caterpillar and chrysalis stages are only about 9 days each. Cold weather takes longer.

Even though it’s cold, I’ve seen several Giant Swallowtails and a Tiger Swallowtail feeding on the Bottlebrush, and lots of Honey Bees. Wish some of them would move into my empty hives. Keep your fingers crossed…..March is swarming season.