This tiny Monarch Caterpillar miracle hatched out of its egg last evening. Every time one of these little caterpillars emerges, I find the miracle of how something that tiny can manage to grow perfectly within an egg no more than 1mm long, to be amazing. I never stop being amazed.
Our Monarch caterpillars are coming along well. In my area, at this early part of the season, the milkweed plants (in New Zealand we have Swan Plants - Ascelpias physocarpa) are healthy. So far there are not too many Aphids around to damage the plants, so they're in good condition for the Monarchs.
We have some great nectar flowers in bloom right now, so it's wonderful to see "our" three local Monarch butterflies flitting around the garden each day. They twist and turn around the garden, enjoying the flowers. The females lay eggs on the Swan Plants as they go. It's fun to see how Monarch butterflies chase Sparrows - something I didn't know they did until I saw it for myself.
Click on each picture below to see closer.......................
We are entering our 2022-23 Monarch season in New Zealand and I'm seeing a number of Monarch butterflies flying in our garden - more than in previous years at this time.
They're especially enjoying the nectar from the Verbena flowers, which is the whole reason why I have them growing.
My best surprise, yesterday, was finding this Monarch caterpillar on a Swan Plant. At about 20mm long I was delighted to see it had already grown to this size without being eaten by ants or wasps - plus I found 4 other teeny caterpillars on the plant.
We're seeing quite a few Asian Paper Wasps too and I feel the caterpillars need a chance, so now they're all safely tucked inside the caterpillar castle, in our house out of harms way, where they can grow to emerge as butterflies. 🦋
It's mid-September here in New Zealand. We've had an unusually wet and very cold Winter and, even now at a time of year that is usually warming up and giving us sunny days, we're experiencing big storms with snow (in some areas), high winds and serious flooding.
Last week showed improvement with several days bright and sunny. It was on one of those days that I visited the area of Muriwai Beach, Auckland, where a large colony of Coastal Copper Butterflies reside. Their host plant, Muehlenbeckia, grows profusely in the clifftop location and was looking healthy and lush. Some of the plants were flowering and will continue like this all Summer
I searched for some time without seeing any butterflies at all. Then I saw one, which quickly disappeared into the landscape. On venturing down a steep path, right on the edge of the windy clifftop, there were two Copper Butterflies basking in the late afternoon sun. They had tucked into a set-back section of the hill, thus enjoying the last of the sun in a sheltered crevice. Both were in very good condition - no rips to their wings nor faded scales, so my guess is that they were probably brand new butterflies at the end of summer and went into diapause throughout the Winter. Diapause is a suspended animation state where the butterfly almost completely closes down while it waits out the cold weather. Alternatively they had newly emerged from their chrysalis', however my opinion is that it has been too cold for new butterflies to eclose in the temperatures we've been having.
*Click on each picture below to see a larger view............
Yes, the butterflies were fighting quite vigorously.
Two days ago four Monarchs emerged from their chrysalis's - three females, one male.
We are now verging on Winter in New Zealand, so it's very late in the season for new butterflies.
In our cooler temperatures I have noticed how much slower all their processes are.
These four averaged 17 days each, in the chrysalis, whereas in Summer it would have been 9 or 10 days. Having said that, once out of the chrysalis the butterflies did seem quite perky.
The first two out were females, then about an hour later the male and the other female.
Once the wings of the first two had dried and they were becoming more active, one made a rush for the other and they began fighting. Wings wide and legs flailing, they reminded me of two tiny boxers going for it. I've seen butterflies do this before and they do fight quite hard.
It was too late in the day to send them off to their butterfly lives, so I separated them and set them in a dark room overnight to calm them down.
Meanwhile the other two butterflies safely emerged from their chrysalis's and all was well.
Next morning I set the four butterflies outside in the sun to warm up in order to fly. The trouble was, once they were warming, one of the females immediately started fighting with one of the other females again. This time I set the more aggressive butterfly out onto a different plant, away from the others until it was ready to fly.
They all eventually flew well and off they went.
Can't say I ever thought that I would have to separate fighting butterflies.
Dogs, yes. Cats, yes. But butterflies?
There you have it - now you know fighting butterflies are a thing 🦋
Casualties happening late in the Monarch Butterfly season are unfortunate, yet will always happen as the season cools down.
Butterflies/caterpillars/chrysalis rely on warm weather temperatures to be well and active. When temperatures cool they face diapause, as their bodies basically begin to slow down into an almost state of suspension.
"In animal dormancy, diapause is the delay in development in response to regular and recurring periods of adverse environmental conditions. It is a physiological state with very specific initiating and inhibiting conditions." Wikipedia
Knowing how our season was winding down and temperatures rapidly cooling, I brought a number of 5th instar Monarch caterpillars into our house to stay safe while finishing their caterpillar processes, forming their chrysalis and then flying off to their butterfly life.
It's warmer in the house, so I thought they would have a better chance of survival - and I could keep an eye on them.
Right now I have 18 chrysalis, 2 caterpillar J's and one final caterpillar still growing.
Unfortunately, as each day grows colder there have been casualties, even in the house.
I believe the problem stems from the caterpillars beginning a semi-diapause process and don't have enough strength or energy to complete their processes as they would in warmer temperatures.
Main problems seem to be -
1) They are taking longer to reach their best 5th instar size in order to set into a J.
2) They are taking longer from the time of stopping eating and making their silk button.
3) They are taking longer from the time of making their silk button, to hanging into their J.
4) They are taking longer from the time of forming their J to forming their chrysalis.
5) They are taking longer in the chrysalis before emerging as a butterfly.
Today, sadly, one caterpillar didn't make it from J to chrysalis and died part-way through the process.
Then another J, that did make it through to chrysalis stage, had made such an ineffective button that it had no grip and the chrysalis fell near the end of the process. The chrysalis was too damaged to keep, so I have euthanised it by putting it into the freezer. In the freezer they just quietly close down, go to sleep, and then freeze to death.
On a positive note, where there are casualties there are still many positives with successful butterflies emerging.
Click along each picture, below, to see a closer view.......
Today was the day that another very late Monarch for the season flew off to its butterfly life.
She emerged from her chrysalis late yesterday afternoon but it was too late in the day for her to fly off, as by then the temperatures were quite cold. As you may know, butterflies can't fly well when its cold. I decided to keep her in overnight, so got out the large Caterpillar Castle and in she went.
This morning dawned sunny but cold, so I waited until about 10am and then placed her outside in the sun. She immediately spread her wings very wide, to take as much warmth into her body as possible. As you may be aware, body temperature can greatly affect a butterfly's ability to fly. The muscles in the insect's midsection (the thorax) must be warm in order for the butterfly to flap its wings fast enough for takeoff.
I moved the butterfly around the garden, onto several different plants in the sun, and then left her to take in the warmth. When I checked back around lunchtime she had gone.
I hope she has a perfectly lovely butterfly life 🦋
Click through each picture, below, to follow her travels today...........
It's a boy!
The first of my final batch of Monarch Caterpillars has emerged from his chrysalis and is now off enjoying his butterfly life. He took 14 days from chrysalis to butterfly, which is slightly longer than the average 9-10 days they take during the peak of our Summer. Now that our temperatures are cooling, the length of time in the chrysalis is extending.
Here's a photographic montage of his progress. He finally eclosed at about 4pm yesterday, so I kept him in over night. It's a marvellous sunny day here, today, so as soon as the sun hit his wings he was off.
Click on each picture, below, to see a larger view.
On 16 April 2022 I wrote about two final caterpillars for the season. Well, I was wrong.
Last year I let my Swan Plant seeds scatter wherever they wanted to go and, this year, a small 'forest' of them grew down a grassy bank beside our house. Due to the huge wasp and ant problem we have here (i.e. them killing eggs and caterpillars) there have been no Monarch caterpillars throughout the main part of our season - until now.
Where I thought the caterpillar season had ended in this area, the Monarch butterflies had other ideas. As long as our temperatures are remaining warm, they fly and they lay eggs.
Last week I noticed there were caterpillars on those plants so I picked off some of the bigger ones and tucked them into the safety of my caterpillar-castle.
They've grown and grown and now I have four more chrysalis's. Then there are even more caterpillars coming along, out on the plants, so I'll keep bringing the larger ones inside as they grow. I'm doing this because, at this cooling time of year there can be mishaps when butterflies come out of the chrysalis so, by having them close to where I can keep an eye on them I'll be in a position to help any that might need it.
Click on each picture below to see larger images........
Opua, New Zealand.
Keen butterfly photographer and raises Monarch Butterflies for release.
" I'm crazy about butterflies and enjoy sharing the beauty and wonder of their transformations."
Monarch Caterpillar emerging from egg
Click on video to enlarge
UNRAVELLING MONARCH MYSTERY