Phlutters – The Final Three

The final three chrysalis opened today. Each butterfly emerged while I wasn’t looking.

I think I just missed this one crawling out of his tight confines into the light; his wings still had a slight curve.

They have all flown out into the yard and are now seeking nectar. My crusade to add to the butterfly population isn’t over. I have a large pot of dill on my back porch and there are eleven caterpillars on its tender fronds eating and growing rapidly. What fun!

Phlutters – Here We Go Again/Part V

SUCCESS!

The first butterfly emerged today. I came home from an outing and found the newly born winged creature on the screen door. When I did swing the door open the butterfly flew away so quickly I knew he/she was healthy and without any flaw that will keep it from sipping nectar and reproducing in the next few weeks.

And a little sidenote…

My pots of dill have at least eleven new black swallowtail caterpillars munching away. Here we go again…again!

Phlutters – Here We Go Again/Part III

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The caterpillars have gone through their instars, and are ready to start the process of metamorphosis into a butterfly.  One caterpillar has hidden his chrysalis well, or somehow made his way outdoors under the screen door. Four of the caterpillars created, or are in the process of creating, their chrysalis cases on the screens and walls.

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The caterpillars stiffen into this comma shape for quite awhile before the transformation to chrysalis takes place.

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When the chrysalis forms it has quite an alien look.

Three of the caterpillars chose well and are five or six feet above the floor.

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This one chose a terrible spot. He is only three feet up, on the doorjamb, exactly where the everyone passes when they go outdoors. I cut the bottom off a yogurt cup and used duct tape to place it around the unwise caterpillar as a barrier. Hopefully, I will be able to remove it when the time comes for him to emerge. I am hoping to post some photographs of black swallowtail in a few weeks.

Phlutters – Here We Go Again/Part II

When I checked the fennel plant today all the smaller caterpillars were gone. There was only one still feasting, and he was large and blended in with the green fronds. The smaller black ones are easy to spot and were probably a meal for a hungry bug or bird. Butterfly populations are dwindling and I’m annoyed with myself for leaving so many outdoors for the predators.

Indoors, to keep the caterpillars near the fennel and off the screens of the porch when they form a chrysalis, I placed the milk carton in a tight fitting ceramic pot and created an arrangement of sticks between the two. It works great! The sticks are stable, don’t blow in the wind, and even if knocked they seem to stay in place.

The largest caterpillar appears to be getting close to forming its chrysalis.

Do caterpillars think? Probably not, but this one certainly looks as if its contemplating what to do next.

Perspective & Phlutters – Here We Go Again

Black Swallowtail butterflies are visiting my gardens earlier than in previous years. I’m thrilled by their presence and even happier to find my fennel plant loaded with caterpillars. Just as I feared though, a daily check on the fennel reveals a diminished amount of newly hatched caterpillars. They fall victim to predatory bugs and some birds. I found a great article on insects that eat Monarchs and other butterfly caterpillars.  Butterfly Predators.

In years past I grew pots of dill with the purpose of saving caterpillars from predators. The idea worked and I was able to save quite a few and they reached maturity on my back porch. Unfortunately, this early in the season my dill sprouts are only a few inches tall. What do do?

A water-filled milk carton with a piece of screen rubber-banded around the top is a good solution. The screen is a must or I risk drowned caterpillars. Although the fennel was limp for a few hours after cutting, it soon perked up. I cut about three fronds, and might need to add more as the caterpillars eat. Because I didn’t want to hand-pick the caterpillars and risk harming them, I cut away just the small tip they were on and placed it within the larger fennel pieces. The caterpillars are doing well, this is day three of their protected feasting on the porch. As they grow I will add pots of twigs in the vicinity for them to begin their metamorphosis upon. In past years several caterpillars rejected the twigs and created their chrysalis on the porch screens and even the wall. This also worked great and all but one emerged unscathed by the human intervention.

Why do I do this? Butterfly populations are declining all over the world due to pollution, insecticides, carbon dioxide, loss of habitat, etc. Giving a few a helping hand might add hundreds more to the environment, and this makes the time I spend saving a few completely worthwhile. I left at least half of the caterpillars outside on the fennel. I’m hoping several will evade detection by hungry predators and make it to the chrysalis stage.

 

Plant & Phlutters – The Fennel Cafeteria

The fennel survived the winter and is a cloud of softest, hazy foliage in the Square Foot Garden. I was admiring it when I spotted a contrasting strand of something black on the foliage.

Could it be? Yes! A swallowtail caterpillar snacking on the fronds. Not only one caterpillar was in the midst of the cloud of fennel, but over half a dozen. I’ve never noticed swallowtail caterpillars so early in the season. I am hoping that the density of the fennel will protect the caterpillars from predators.

 

Phlutters – Small Miracles Part II

Part II of my small miracles day doesn’t have the beauty of the newly hatched Swallowtail butterfly, but it will help facilitate more miracles. I grow dill and other host plants for Swallowtail butterflies each year. This season I was determined to also grow plants for Monarchs.

I have managed to sprout some milkweed seeds by the winter-sowing method. Because I know the milkweed has a tap-root I chose to sow the seeds in peat pots and enclosed them in a recycled food container during the winter months. They have sprouted. I will get them in the ground as soon as possible so that the tap-root will not be disturbed and the plants will have a better chance at survival.

Asclepias syriaca: Common milkweed is the host plant for Monarch butterflies.

“Monarchs cannot survive without milkweed; their caterpillars only eat milkweed plants (Asclepias spp.), and monarch butterflies need milkweed to lay their eggs. With shifting land management practices, we have lost much milkweed from the landscape.” ~ Monarch Joint Venture

I know the assessment of Monarch Joint Venture is true. I can name three parcels of land within a mile or two of my home where I once saw milkweed. All three have been built upon, weed whacked, or decimated by the relentless need to clear land for business purposes. I’m sure this same problem is rampant across the country.

Due to the loss of habitat for monarchs, this year I collected a bit of seed from a milkweed patch to grow in my gardens. I’ll be planting the sprouts soon so that the long root can develop unhindered. I also have several milkweed seeds in my freezer. I’ll plant a few in my garden beds and also find some areas near me where they might have a chance to grow. If you want to participate in helping Monarch butterflies survive and thrive you can find some good tips here: Monarch Butterfly Garden.

Phlutters – A Day of Small Miracles Part I

In a November post, Comminatory Weather and the Big Save, I described how I saved two Swallowtail butterfly caterpillars from a hard freeze in my garden. One didn’t make it, but the other formed a chrysalis which has rested on the soil of a dried out pot of dill for several months.


I left it alone for the most part, only dripping a bit of water on it now and then when I watered my plants. Today when I entered the room and checked on my garden seedlings, something fluttered and flew off the pot; I knew right away the caterpillar had changed into a butterfly.

I extended a finger, nudged his legs, and he walked on. If he had emerged in the midst of cold weather I would have tried to craft several fake flowers connected to jars of sugar water for him to survive on, but since it has warmed up and there are many flowers and trees blooming, I knew outdoors was his best chance.

I took him to the garden and gently let him move onto the edge of a daffodil. He looked happy until I moved and then he flew about twenty feet out into the yard. He flew fine, but it seemed one of his bottom wings was not quite extended all the way. He rested on the grass for quite awhile, flying now and then several feet one way then another. Suddenly, he extended his wings, flew, and was quickly out of sight. I was thrilled. Every day is blessed when it contains a small miracle or two. Part 2 of my small miracle day will be posted tomorrow.

Project & Phlutters – Butterfly Feeding/First Swallowtail Part II

Creating my butterfly feeder was quick, easy and inexpensive. I had much of what I needed on hand. A dollar store windchime with four attachments where the chimes hung was the perfect piece of mechanics for hanging a shallow container filled with Gatorade or boiled sugar water. (4 parts water to 1 part sugar)

No instructions needed, use what you have on hand. The secret lies in the wire and plastic container: a plastic dish scrubber. The butterfly can land on this and use his long proboscis to dine on the nectar. I created holes in the plastic dish with a hot ice pick.

When I added the wire for hanging I let the end curl upward. These make the perfect spear for rotting/old fruit. I was going to use a strawberry, but remembered they are heavily sprayed with insecticide. It is better to use fruit that is within a peel unless it is organic.

Phlutters – Butterfly Feeding/First Swallowtail Part I

I watered a patch of newly planted grass yesterday, and was delighted when I saw the first yellow swallowtail butterfly of 2017 ‘puddling‘ in the dampness.

He fluttered around the yard searching out more patches of damp earth for sipping, making use of the nutrients, salts and amino acids the earth contains. I was surprised upon searching the Internet to find products to purchase for ‘puddling’ butterflies. These butterfly feeders are easy to make yourself. Today, I’ll gather up some materials and post my creations tomorrow.

Phlutters – Earth Day – Two Days Late

The tiny size of the Azure Blue butterfly often causes it to be mistaken for a moth. When it lightly skims by, floating on the air, you glimpse a flash of blue. As it touches down on foliage or flowers, the blue is folded inward, hidden by the white undersides of the wings.

I’m so grateful for the zoom feature on my camera and the ability of my computer to crop and enlarge photos. In a world without technology it would be hard to get a close-up look at this small butterfly.

I was lucky, at just the right moment the Azure Blue opened his wings and I pushed the shutter-release button. I have some nice views now to study and admire.

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” ~ Genesis 1:1

Earth Day was rainy here in Southern New Jersey, so I am celebrating what Earth Day means to me the whole week through: harmony between men and the beautiful earth that God created.