Monarch Moments

Taking a leaf from a sweet post of Rebecca’s Texas Garden, I am currently nannying Monarch caterpillars in my house.  Monarch-sitting has its brief, dramatic moments, but most days pass without much but eating.

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And eating.

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And eating.

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That’s how we grow, right? A  Monarch will gain about 2000 times its birth weight before it begins the process of transforming into its adult self.  And all that eating produces caterpillar poop, which polite people call frass.

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I am keeping the frass tidied up.  Sort of.

Continuing with this Lepidoptera saga of moving some milkweed with accompanying Monarch larvae into my son’s recently vacated room,

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…there is action to report–Monarch goings on, if you will.  A couple of the caterpillars were quite large, nearing pupation stage when I settled them from the garden. Within two days, the first monarch completed its 4th instar (molt of the exoskeleton) and he’d vacated the bunches of milkweed to find a place for the final transformation, the chrysalis.  I realized there was one caterpillar missing and that he’d probably crawled away to pupate and  I launched a search mission.  I looked, knowing he hadn’t gone far, but I couldn’t find him. I counted and recounted caterpillars and was sure he wasn’t amongst the leaf chompers. He’d pupated, but where??

There he is!

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When I was downloading photos for this post, I noticed in the photo below this first caterpillar crawling along the desk. He found the right spot on the statue of Buddha.

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This guy was not far behind in the pupation process.

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I observed his disembarkation from the milkweed buffet and for a few minutes, followed his wanderings as he was (I assumed) looking for the perfect place to pupate.  He ended up here.

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Approaching his last instar this Monarch larva formed into the signature “J” shape for at least twelve hours.  I knew the “J” would become a bright green chrysalis sometime in the evening and I knew that the chrysalis transformation would happen in a short amount of time–minutes probably.   I came home from an evening out, flipped the light on and observed this wet, glistening chrysalis in major Monarch writhing.

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Moving like a green belly dancer, all sparkles and gyrations, the chrysalis was formed within a few minutes.   Afterward, the chrysalis calmed,  dried, and hardened. During the J process, he attached himself firmly to the corner of the window with a silk thread and there, will pupate until emergence.

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I think the caterpillars that have pupated  are all males. Looking at this excellent photo from monarchwatch.org, you can see the difference in a pupa between a female and male.  In real-time with my chrysalides, neither my eyes, nor my photographic abilities match that photo, but since I can’t see the line that is indicative of a female, I’m guessing boys so far.  I’ll know for sure once they are adults, because that’s much easier to discern.

The remains of his last larval molt, dropped to the window sill.IMGP2632.new

Another example of molted exoskeleton.IMGP2486.new

The instar process has repeated for this one,

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…and for this one.

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I was keeping a keen eye on this guy, on and off, knowing the thing was going to happen. You can see the chrysalis green on the curve of the “J.

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Notice the drops of liquid.

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Late Tuesday afternoon, I checked him, left to tend to something else, came back within 20 minutes and found the fully enveloped chrysalis, (left).IMGP2747.new

Drat! I missed it!

There are a couple of other caterpillars, still eating and growing.  I expect the first adult to emerge late this coming weekend or early in the week.

There are those who would question the wisdom of my efforts.  I question whether bringing them in was a wise move.  Should the larvae have remained on the milkweed to either overwinter or die naturally?  Should I even grow Tropical Milkweed in my gardens as it’s not native here in Austin?  There is preliminary evidence that the overuse of Tropical Milkweed (which seems to be the most successful large-scale milkweed grown for the nursery trade) in well-meaning, but misguided efforts to help Monarchs, may be interfering with their migratory patterns and possibly causing some disease problems. All of this is valid and I was aware these issues when I clipped the milkweed with the attached caterpillars and brought them indoors.   I now hold these late season larvae captive and they are growing to adulthood.  The next decision I make will be whether to release them and hope they can live to a ripe old age, nectaring on what’s available.  They probably can’t make it to Mexico, but I’m sure they’ll try.  Or, to keep them captive, safe and well-fed until they die of old age after the 5 or 6 weeks of their lives.

I guess the takeaway here is: don’t mess with Mother Nature, there are always unintended consequences.

The Buddha and the Chrysalis

I’ll leave the religious and philosophical ruminations to others, but I rather like where this Monarch caterpillar chose to metamorphose.IMGP2637.new

At the very least I should explain why there’s a Monarch chrysalis indoors.  My son is starting his life and lives far away–sniff! and yay! at that, depending upon my particular mood.  He will probably never live at home again and I’m in the process of revamping his room into something more usable.  Adding to that, the predicted freeze-that-wasn’t last week spurred me to prune some milkweed with 8 Monarch caterpillars in residence.  I placed the milkweed, with accompanying caterpillars, in jars on my son’s bedroom window sill and am letting nature take its course.

IMGP2656.new As of today, there are three chrysalides and five more eating their way to transformation. What can I say?  The parallels of butterfly metamorphosis and Buddhism are too obvious to ignore.

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My sister-in-law suggests the creature which emerges will be a Buddha-fly.  I think I like it.

 

Foliage Follow-Up, November 2014: The Non-Freeze

My gardens are slowing down in preparation for winter, but haven’t experience the frosty nip that was promised earlier in the week. Thank goodness!  I’m not quite ready to give in to the dark season.  Not Just Yet.

Focusing on mid-November foliage, I’m joining with Pam at Digging for Foliage Follow-Up.

In one corner of my garden with dappled light most of the day and some direct sun off and on, are a couple of favorite foliage vignettes.  One such is of Iris straps, Blue MistflowerConoclinium coelestinum,  and cobalt-blue containerized succulent Ghost Plant, Graptopetalum paraguayense.

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Planted alongside that mix are several  Dianella or Variegated Flax Lily, Dianella tasmanica ‘Variegata’. IMGP1865.new

I love the wide, grass-like foliage of Dianella with its snazzy white stripes down the sides.IMGP2017.new

When a freeze was predicted this week, I covered the Dianella, though my concerns were unwarranted.  Last winter, I covered all of my Dianella each time the temperature sank into the ’20s, especially for extended periods. They soldiered through winter like the garden champs they are and thrived in our long, hot summer. Dianella nicely combine with Iris and Soft-leaf Yucca straps,IMGP1864.new

…as well as with these snuggly Love-Critters.

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Ghost Plant is unkillable:  it goes for months without water, isn’t fazed by freezes (or at least mine haven’t been), can re-grow if a stem is broken.

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My kinda plant.

Maiden GrassMiscanthus sinensis ‘Adagio’ is in its glory now.IMGP1868.new

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The beautiful seed heads reflect the sun as it briefly peeked through our mostly cloudy week.

Toasty-seeded Inland Sea OatsChasmanthium latifolium and the green swath of Cast Iron Plant,  Aspidistra elatior are a striking pair.

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Added to this scene is Purple HeartSetcreasea pallida, which dramatizes that story a bit.

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Big MuhlyMuhlenbergia lindheimeri and Soft-leaf YuccaYucca recurvifolia  are cool weather troopers.IMGP2399.new

Graceful while also lending structure to the garden, these two are beautiful companions throughout the year, hot or cold.

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I took this photo of  evergreen Yarrow, Achillea millefolium and Chile Pequin, Capsicum annuum var. glabriusculum,  just before what was supposed to be a freezing night.  I figured the fruits wouldn’t survive the plunging temperatures and wanted to record them for posterity.IMGP2529.new

I’m happy to report that the fruits are still available for dining by interested birds.

I love the twisty-curvy foliage of Corkscrew RushJuncus effusus spiralis, silhouetted over a pair of Mexican FeathergrassNassella tenuissima.

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Finally, the leaf change is beginning on my Red Oak, Quercus coccinea.

IMGP2641.new Here in Central Texas, our tree foliage color change occurs later than that of our northern kin, but beautiful and appropriate for our climate and region. There will be more of this in the weeks to come.

Digging hosts Foliage Follow-Up–drop in for a look at November foliage fanfare.