Archive for the 'Butterfly' Category


Thursday, September 15th, 2016

Yesterday, the chrysalis started to darken with some of the lines on its wings  more visible. We thought it would hatch today. Well, when we came down for breakfast, the chrysalis was empty and the Monarch butterfly nowhere in sight. After a search the lady was found in a dark corner on the side of a bookcase.

Her wings were fully expanded and body seemed to be almost normal size after pumping the fluid into the wings. She was still expelling the excess. After several photos on the bookcase, we took her outside to continue resting and maturing. Here she is on an aster.

We watched her for awhile and then said “have a safe trip” and went back in the house. Even though we did not get to photograph her as she hatched, we are happy to have protected the egg and caterpillar so she can start her journey in good health.


Tuesday, September 6th, 2016

The Monarch caterpillar has taken its time maturing. It was 13 days old, plump and pretty, and still devouring leaves on last Friday.The number of days for each instar is said to be temperature dependent. It is usually 1 to 3 days for the first four instars and 3 to 5 for the last. That is a range of 7 to 17 days.  It pupated on the 16th day.

We had put several branches near the milkweed stalk and it did not like them. It crawled up and down the sticks and milkweed for several hours. The branches and milkweed were in glass bottles which it could not walk down so it let itself fall. Linda put it back several times and finally decided it and the sticks would need to be put in one of our wire insect cages covered by a 12 inch pot saucer.

The caterpillar crawled round the fine wire mesh wall and then went to the top where it made its cromaster (the little white pad on which it will hang). It attached, and hung in a J. Since it had chosen a place that was inconvenient for photography, we had to figure another way to hold the pot lid up high enough to photograph and make some video when it started to pupate. The wire mesh cage was not going to work.

After a search of the house, Linda spotted three heavy empty wine bottles. She put slender dowels poked into corks and had a scaffold for the pot saucer. Sometimes a need is really the mother of invention. The 3 light reflectors have cool white 1150 lumen LED bulbs and are attached to light stands. The lights were aimed up into the saucer and we were ready. Or so we hoped.

When checked on frequently, the caterpillar was still in a J so we thought it was taking its time to extend down and let its tentacles go limp. An hour later when we checked it, we found it doing the Monarch caterpillar hula as it turns into a chrysalis.  So it was lights, camera, action. Both stills and several short videos were made.

The chrysalis and the setup are to stay where they are on a table in the basement until the butterfly hatches. We have put a small lamp nearby to turn on in daylight hours so it has a somewhat normal light regimen. Other caterpillars we have raised have hatched in about 13 days. We wonder what this one will do.

Day 11

Wednesday, August 31st, 2016

The Monarch caterpillar spent 24 hours on the back of this leaf without moving. We checked on it before leaving for the gym at 6 a.m. and wondered about its health. Two and  a half hours later, when we returned it had just shed its skin and we think it is in its last instar. It was possible to make a side-view image just after the skin slipped off  A half hour later the skin had been eaten.

It is now busily devouring leaves as its counts down toward pupating into a chrysalis on its way to being an adult butterfly. The yellow bands are now very bright and its body is velvety. Its front tentacles are now over a centimeter long. If it is typical, it will pupate in 3 to 5 days. We hope that we are present with at least one camera when that happens.

Days 7 & 9

Monday, August 29th, 2016

The Monarch caterpillar is growing fast. On Saturday (Day 7) it ate along the edge of a leaf and the fiber along the edge curled back as it dried.

Today (Day 9) it is longer and stretches out more often to almost 25mm in length. It spent some time eating across this main vein in the leaf and on both sides of it. It is thought that cutting across a vein helps to regulate the amount of cardenolides and latex the caterpillar ingests as it grows. Cardenolides are the poisons that protect adult Monarch butterflies.  Then it turned around to go to the top of leaf and to eat above the vein. It has eaten most of the leaf.

Its yellow bands are brighter and a bit wider today. From now on it will eat until it is close to 45 mm in length when it will form its chrysalis. When it gets larger we will include several angled sticks in the bottle for it to choose a place to pupate.

Day 6

Friday, August 26th, 2016

The Monarch caterpillar did not seem to change much on days 4 and 5. It certainly did today on Day 6 as it shed its skin and is now in its third instar. The shed skin is behind it in this image. It has eaten its skin and is now chewing a channel in the leaf.

It is more than five times the length it was when it was hatched and is wider with longer front tentacles. The yellow bands are getting brighter.

Soon we will not need as much lens magnification to photograph it fairly large on the frame.  Also should be able to get some side views soon.

Day 2 & Day 3

Thursday, August 25th, 2016

The tiny Monarch caterpillar changes very quickly over hours and days.  Its stripes were still quite pale and shiny on Monday. He chewed tiny holes in between the veins of the Common Milkweed leaves. Sometimes it would connect one hole to the nest. It also began to venture out among the leaves.

On Tuesday, the black bands were darker and the yellow and white bands more apparent. It had shed its first skin and was now in its second instar. The front antenna protruded a bit more though the back ones are still little knobs. It was no longer shiny. While shedding its skin from one instar to another, caterpillars stay very quiet once they have picked a place to do that.  After shedding they may consume the skin so as to not waste good nourishment.

New Foster Child

Sunday, August 21st, 2016

For the last several years Monarch Butterflies have been scarce in our yard and along roadsides where we sometimes encounter females laying eggs. On Thursday we saw a Monarch fluttering around some Common Milkweed and investigated to see if any eggs had been laid. We found one and brought it home in hopes of raising one to release in our yard.

Late last night the tiny caterpillar’s head was visible through the translucent egg.

This morning the egg was empty. Usually the egg shell is eaten by the newly hatched caterpillar. Since the leaf was very dry we paperclipped it at the top of a fresh milkweed stalk last night. When it hatched we hoped it could have a more tender leaf to munch. It must have figured that out for this morning we found it at the tip of one of the small leaves near where we had put the dry leaf.

Since making this photo early this morning, the tiny caterpillar has made a pinhead size hole in the leaf so it is starting to eat. We still are looking at it using a magnifying glass. Its bands are starting to color.

The camera used has a 1.6 magnification factor. Along with a 180mm macro lens and a 2x tele-converter, that makes the combination function like a 576mm lens. The tripod head has a macro slider attached so by using the camera’s Live View,  fine close-up adjustments could be made. The files were cropped slightly to show the tiny subjects in blog format.

If it survives, there will more installments.

Summer in the Woods

Sunday, August 14th, 2016

This morning The Writer’s Almanac featured a poem by Emily Dickinson; the first verse of which is:

The bee is not afraid of me,
 I know the butterfly;
The pretty people in the woods
 Receive me cordially

We were at a state preserve and park in Southeast Iowa yesterday. The poison ivy deterred us from doing much off the beaten path. So we contented ourselves with photographing spiders and insects, another favorite subject.

This Hackberry Emperor butterfly, a very pretty person of the woods, cordially received us. Or perhaps we received it. It spent about 5 minutes lapping up the salts from Linda’s sweaty hand. Bob made several images of its proboscis licking and tickling her hand. She carried over to others to admire while it continued to lap up minerals.

It stayed around afterwards and landed on our clothing several times. There were other “pretty people” in that spot – an Eastern Comma, a Silver-spotted Skipper, several Pearl Crescents. Most of the butterflies had nicks out of their wings, as has this one.

There are many cordial small creatures in a woods. Standing quietly seems to invite them over as Miss Dickinson did.

Monarch Watch

Thursday, January 21st, 2016

Last evening we went to a presentation by Dr. Orley R. “Chip” Taylor. The large meeting room was full of people with an interest is all pollinators but especially Monarch (Danaus plexippus) butterflies.

Dr. Taylor co-founded Monarch Watch in 1992. Among the first group of people that responded to the press release seeking volunteers were about 500 from Des Moines, Iowa. Over the years more butterflies have been tagged in Iowa than any other state. Later research showed that Iowa was the largest breeding ground for butterflies roosting in the Oyamel fir forests in southern Mexico before milkweed was eradicated from agricultural fields and along roadways. Dr. Taylor is soliciting everyone’s help to increase milkweed production so that the wintering population in Mexico will rise again.

We visited the small preserves with another Monarch researcher in 2010. Dr. William “Bill” Calvert was among the first scientists to locate the wintering grounds high in the mountains between Morelia and Mexico City. The Oyamel (Abies religiosa) or sacred fir trees are where most of the Monarchs roost from November to early March before making the several generation flights to the Upper Midwest and points east.

The Oyamel is not only essential to the only insect known to migrate long distances annually to a particular location and habitat, but is also important to the local population. The boughs are used in religious celebrations, hence its second part of its name -religiosa.

We saw trees encased in butterflies and the ground littered with those puddling for moisture and minerals and sometimes those that had not survived the long winter. We were there in early March as the butterflies were getting ready to head north to Texas and Oklahoma to parent the next generation. We saw mating and even an egg on a Tropical Milkweed leaf.

These were probing the soil for much needed water. Dr. Taylor discussed the narrow balance between enough moisture so that the butterflies could utilize their stored fat reserves to survive the 4 to 5 months in Mexico and the danger of heavy rains followed by freezing temperatures that sometimes occur in these 10-11,000 foot mountains.

Here a group was clinging to stems at a seep or little spring. Many looked like their fat stores were much reduced from the plump adults we see here in the Midwest during July and August.

In thinking about ways that Iowans could demonstrate their commitment to the preservation of Monarch butterflies and all pollinators besides planting native forbs, we learned that Iowa is one of only 5 states that does not have a state insect symbol.

In 29 states there is a state butterfly and sometimes there is a state insect and a state butterfly. The Monarch is the state insect or butterfly for these states: Texas, Alabama, West Virginia, Illinois, Minnesota, Vermont, Idaho. Idaho’s Monarchs most likely are from the West Coast population that winters along the California coast. Though several states are not large caterpillar nurseries, they felt it was important to honor this iconic and important representative of the biodiversity that supports us all.

Perhaps Iowa should do the same.


Thursday, July 30th, 2015

Yesterday afternoon the Monarch caterpillar attached itself to a heavy vein on the underside of one of the larger milkweed leaves. This was instead of using the supply of sticks we placed around the milkweed stem. The silken pad is dense and strong.

After several hours had passed it released  its three pair of front legs and seemed to still be making chewing movements with its mouth parts. The head capsule moved about. Next came the releasing of the rear pair of prolegs.

Then about every passing half hour, another pair of prolegs would release until one pair still held the caterpillar in a horizontal plane.

Finally the last set released as the video function of the camera was recording.

It was still swinging and had not yet converted to the J position when the camera was switched back to still images.

Because the underside of a Monarch caterpillar is rarely photographed, we though we should include this image. The colors were fading from the underside while the top side was still more vivid.

Here it is in the “J” position in which it can hang for as much as a day. This caterpillar stayed as a “J” from about 9 last night until a bit after noon today. The tentacles are starting to droop which is a sign that it will soon pupate. The “J” position also straightens a bit when that is close.

Since it was not yet straightened there seemed to be time to do a couple of needed tasks before making more images. When Linda got back downstairs to the tabletop setup, its skin was lying on the table and it was gyrating and compacting itself into a classic chrysalis. The skin was intact except for the split on the back. The tentacles and skin covering the feet are still discernible.

The yellow and green of the newly pupated monarch was being pushed about and shaped as it twisted itself into shape. The shiny black cremaster that will hold the chrysalis to the silken pad attached while its skin was being shed.

The chrysalis continued to become more interesting as it hardened. It is very shiny and the gold dots are still developing.  For this image, cross polarization of the flash and the lens was done to tame some of the sheen.  This image was made with a single flash rather than two which is customary.  There is more modeling with the shadow. The chrysalis is shown duller than a typical very shiny chrysalis but more of what is happening inside can be seen.

Cross polarization involves placing polarizing film in front of the flashes and using a circular polarizer on the lens. It is a way to minimize specular highlights on shiny objects.

Now we have to wait about 10-13 days to see whether the butterfly is male or female.