And…They’re Off!

I released the last two Queen butterflies this week.  I brought a total of nine caterpillars into my house, mostly Queens, and one Monarch.  You can read about why I would do such a thing here and here. Three of those, all Queens, metamorphosed in the house and at least two, outdoors.

Two of the caterpillars died in the larval stage, but I’m not quite sure how many died as chrysalides.  I watched all of them for longer than the 10-14 days that is the normative time for the process and decided to remove two stems with four chrysalides to my compost pile, assuming that the very darkened chrysalides were dead.  Since I tend to be a rather lazy composter, I don’t routinely dig in new compostable material underneath the old, but rather, I dump on top.  In this situation, that was a good thing.  I checked the stems-with-chrysalides, just out of curiosity, a day or two later, and the two chrysalis shells I located were broken–not squishy as if they’d died, but actually broken as if a butterfly had emerged. My hope is that they did survive and emerge.  That’s what I’m choosing to believe and there’s nothing like a good rationalization to get through the day.

I couldn’t locate the other stem with chrysalides though. They may have actually died.  I now know that one must be careful in handling caterpillars because bacteria can damage, but I wasn’t aware of that before this little save-the-butterflies project started.  All of the chrysalides that I assumed were dead had darkened,

…and two of them were very dark and unhealthy looking, indeed.  So I pinned my hope on the last two chrysalides, one on a stem and the one above the window.

Window chrysalis opened early Monday morning and Sir Queen unfolded from his cozy pupa.

Buddha-fly was female, Sir Queen is male.  Note the two dark spots on each hind wing?  Those are scent spots indicative of a male.

Monarchs sport similar markings–both Queen and Monarchs are in the.butterfly subfamily of Danainae.

It was cold earlier this week and I decided not to release him.  Once I was confident that his wings were dry, I invited him onto my finger and placed him in a protected makeshift butterfly cage–I have cats (the feline sort) so, yeah, I think that was the responsible butterfly nanny thing to do.   Using instruction from a December 3, 2013 post by Texas Butterfly Ranch, I attempted to feed him, but he never showed interest.  Butterflies won’t eat in the first 24-48 hours, but Sir Queen never ate in my

It was an instructive and remarkable experience, hosting this handsome fellow and his lady friend the week before.  I observed closely his beautiful markings, how he’d turn his head toward me when I was near, and the intricate patterns throughout his wings, thorax and abdomen.  One can’t appreciate a butterfly in nature like this–they fly away!  And eat!  And do other butterfly related things!

Though it continued chilly and cloudy this week,  I decided on Wednesday that it was better for him to be out there instead of in here.  It was warmer and I placed him on some still blooming Henry Duelberg Sage, Salvia farinacea, ‘Henry Duelberg’.

He didn’t seem all that impressed, but there wasn’t much more I could do, except hope he eventually unrolls his proboscis and gets to work, sipping nectar.

He was still there when I returned later in the afternoon, not having moved much.

I hope he’ll be okay.

Yesterday afternoon I lumbered into the butterfly room, formerly my son’s room to, ahem, pack up more stuff and…Wow!

Another boy butterfly! And a beautiful one at that!

Sir Queen, the Second!

I’d noticed that the chrysalis, while darkening, developed clearly defined dots and lines and I wondered if the adult would appear–I’m glad I didn’t banish it to the compost.

I quickly ushered him outdoors as it was late in the day.  Here they are together in a nice bed of Gregg’s Mistflower–Sir Queen the First and Sir Queen the Second.

May both fly high, nectar much, mate with abandon, and prosper.

Would I do this again, snatching caterpillars and raising them in the house?  I’m not sure. Considering that our weather hasn’t been all that cold, coupled with the questionable survival rate of “my” caterpillars, I wish I’d left them outside to take their chances. Their bodies would have slowed down with the lower temperatures, but they wouldn’t have been disturbed.  At least not by me.  Maybe they would have become bird food, but that’s part of the cycle.  NOT part of the cycle is a crazed, OCD gardener snipping them and their food source out of the garden and plunking them in a room with two bright pink walls and two neon green walls–and a Jimi Hendrix poster.

For myself, it was a gift to observe the process so intimately–larvae, pupae, adults. This business of metamorphosis is awesome–in the true sense of that word. The beauty of each stage and the intricate changes throughout–I’m fortunate to have had the time and awareness to witness this common, but remarkable, natural event.

Maybe one of the Sir(s) Queen will find Buddha-fly and they’ll cruise off together, wings entwined, into the sunset.


Buddha-fly Emerges!

I have nice neighbors who take care of my dog and cats (and often, parts of the gardens) when I travel. I feel fortunate in with this arrangement. They help me, I help them–that’s what community is about, right?  When I traveled from home over the Thanksgiving weekend, I mentioned to my neighbors that at least one of the butterflies I’ve been nannying was likely to emerge.  This concerned Kind Neighbors;  I think they visualized opening the Butterfly Room (formerly Son’s Room) and clouds of the winged lovelies would flit about the house. I assured Kind Neighbors that at most, only one would emerge and it wouldn’t do much, if any, flying until I arrived home.  And sure enough,  a newly emerged Queen butterfly awaited my return.


Initially I found her near to the floor, away from where she’d morphed on the little Buddha statue.  An easy and safe (for the butterfly) way to pick up any newly emerged adult butterfly is to wet your finger, then gently place it in front of the insect’s legs–he or she will usually climb right aboard.  My husband picked her up and she proceeded to flit about on his shirt,

…and arm.

She’s a female Queen;  she lacks the dark scent spots that a male Queen would have on the hind wings.


We escorted her to the back garden and placed her on a blooming Tropical Sage,

…where she stayed for just a few minutes before flying to a cluster of Inland Sea She remained there bit longer.

Toward sundown I noticed she’d migrated to a nearby patch of Gregg’s Mistflower,

…and that was the last I saw of her.

Good nectaring, flying, and breeding, Buddha-fly!

Wildlife Wednesday, November 2014

I should call this month’s post: what you notice when you bother to pay attention.  The reason I started Wildlife Wednesday was (unselfishly)  to promote planting and gardening for wildlife and (selfishly) to improve my own observation, identification, and photographic skills.  One thing I’ve learned is just how much wildlife actually resides in my gardens that I hadn’t fully appreciated.  I wasn’t oblivious to the myriad of creepy, crawly, flitty pollinator/seed distributor-types, but I didn’t notice them all that much.  Bees?  Oh sure, they’re in the garden, but don’t ask me to tell the difference between species.  The birds were easy to identify, as long as they were colorful or in some other way caught my eye. All those little brown/gray/tan things?  They were just “twitty birds” to me.  Butterflies, because of their obvious beauty, were much easier to discern, but I didn’t necessarily observe and identify moths or the many little skippers out there, which are important pollinators, along with the most beautiful butterfly. I’m still more likely to be aware of the conspicuous; sometimes, that’s all I have time or patience for.  But in these past few months, in focusing my observations on life-beyond-the-plants, I’m amazed at what I’ve seen that I wasn’t aware of.  I have grown to value, even more than before, the abundant diversity residing in my patch of the Earth.

I must have spent fifteen minutes attempting to get a decent photograph of this pollen-heavy leafcutting bee, it worked the blooms of a Henry Duelberg Sage.  At least I think it’s a leafcutting bee, which is categorized as a Megachile species.   I was more fascinated at how this little bee moved around, so laden  with pollen.  At one point she rested along the stem.

Just afterwards, she lumbered away in flight, her corbiculae, which I like to call pollen pantaloons, loaded with valuable cargo.  Honestly, I wasn’t sure she could fly, she was carrying so much pollen.  But fly she did.

Throughout this blooming fall, I’ve seen many individuals of this species of Tachinid fly at blooming plants, like Frostweed.

The first of these flies that I saw was at a distance and  I assumed it was some sort of black bumblebee.  Upon closer inspection,

…it had that definite fly look about it. Those huge eyes!  And don’t you just love those hairs sticking out of its abdomen?

Interestingly, I’ve observed these flies exclusively on the Frostweed and White Mistflower blooms–both white flowers, though I couldn’t find any information that suggests they prefer white blooms.

Of course, I must brag about my little honeybees,

…as they work flowers for the benefit of the hive(s).

Throughout October, I’ve seen several types of hover fly species in the gardens.  The Common Oblique Syrphid, Allograpta obliqua, is remarkably photogenic.

This little “flower fly” is a beneficial garden resident as it sips nectar in its adult stage and controls aphids in its larval stage, as a little green worm.  Beautiful to look at and valuable for gardens,

…they’re good garden partners.

And of course, no parade of October-in-Austin insect photos are complete without a bevy of butterfly images.  The Monarchs, Danaus plexippus,  have been daily visitors through most of October, nectaring on favorites like the Gregg’s Mistflower.

A relative of the Monarchs,  the QueenDanaus gilippus, also prefers Gregg’s Mistflower,

…as does the American Painted LadyVanessa virginiensis,

…as does the Mournful DuskywingErynnis tristis.

I guess the garden lesson demonstrated here is that Gregg’s Mistflower is a must-have wildlife attracting plant.  It’s pretty, too.

Common in Austin, the Pipevine SwallowtailBattus philenor,  is a high, strong flyer. Though this one,

…looks a little worse for wear.  It was nice to see him one sunny afternoon, because I haven’t enjoyed many of his kind visiting my gardens this year.

As we head into cooler temperatures, the various dragon and damselflies will be dormant. I spied this beauty, a Springwater Dancer,  Argia plana, sunning himself on the rocks which border my pond.

He may be the last one I see this autumn, but I’m sure he and his Odonata brethren will return next spring to grace my gardens.

I think this little insect is a sweat bee of the Halictidae family.  He/she was busily working a Goldeneye bloom. Small bloom, smaller bee.  I thought that I would definitely find a photo and identifying information for this critter, but didn’t locate information which gives me total confidence on my identification. I’ll have to take a guess on this one.

But it’s an example of what you notice when you pay attention.  Unobtrusive and small, I might not have seen this native bee (of whatever variety) if I wasn’t looking for wild visitors.

This Blue-gray GnatcatcherPolioptila caerulea, was hopping around in my Retama tree one Sunday afternoon as I attempted to photograph a Tufted titmouse.

The Gnatcatcher is apparently a summer resident in Central Texas, before migrating south, but I don’t know that I’ve ever seen one before.

More than likely I have seen a Gnatcatcher, but relegated it to the category of “generic neutral-colored bird,” which I’m afraid I sometimes do.   My bad.

He’s another example of what you notice when you pay attention.  And I never did get a decent photo of a Tufted titmouse.

This American RedstartSetophaga ruticilla, visited and this is the best shot I could manage.

The photo is poor quality, in part because I was so excited to find a bird that I’d never seen (I need to work on that breathe deep and focus thing), but also because he was flitty and flighty in his movements.  Then my dog waddled near to where the bird was.  Then the cat decided to stroll in the general vicinity of Mr. Redstart.  Well, he’s no fool and he flew away. Migratory through Central Texas, on his way to Central and South America for winter, I saw him a little later in an oak tree, but it was late and he just wouldn’t cooperate for a photo.  After looking at photos of both the male and female Redstarts, I believe I observed a female mid-month working her way among my perennial shrubs.   Alas, no photo of her either.

The Lesser Goldfinches, Spinus psaltria, descended on the Goldeneye as the flowers went to seed.

They were around for a week or two, making themselves at home.

I haven’t seen them in about two weeks.  I live on the edge of their year round habitat, but it’s possible the visiting crew headed south.  I did read that they tend to move around quite a bit.  I still have Goldeneye seeding out;  I wish the Lessers would stop by for some meals.

And I’m always amaze at the noise the petite Carolina WrenThryothorus ludovicianus, makes.

This little guy is a common bird in my gardens and packs a wallop of sound from that tiny body.  This fellow was singing away just after sunrise.

Lots happened in my garden during October and I’m sure yours also hosted plenty of wild action. Please join in posting about the wild garden visitors for November Wildlife Wednesday. Share the rare or mundane, funny or fascinating, beneficial or harmful critters you encounter. When you comment on my post, please remember to leave a link to your Wildlife Wednesday post so we can enjoy a variety of garden wildlife observations.

Good wildlife gardening to you!