A Wee Monarch Caterpillar Post--and a bird.

The banding has been on the slow side this spring at Carpenter. I'm not attributing that to an overall problem, after all we only meet on Fridays--maybe I would be posting something different if we were banding five days a week. Maybe it's time to change net location--who can say at this point with just anecdotal evidence from banding once a week.

But the awesome thing about Carpenter is that if the banding is slow we can easily find other nature to occupy out time. This week it was the monarch butterflies that caught our attention:

Since I've been noticing so many monarch butterfly eggs everywhere else I've wandered, I thought I would see what the milkweed around Carpenter would yield--LOADS. The leaf in the above photo shows two eggs--believe it or not, there was a third egg on the top side of the leaf too! That's unusual, monarchs tend to lays eggs on the underside of the leaf. These eggs are about to hatch, you can see (assuming you can see the eggs) that they are dark, when they are first laid, monarch eggs are a cream color (like the ones I found last weekend). In case you're having trouble viewing the eggs, here is a close up:

See the dark spot towards the top of the egg? That's the little caterpillar head. This little cat is chewing its way out of the egg. This is also what gives the about to hatch egg a dark color.

Eventually, one of the eggs did hatch! So Tiny! It's hard to believe that in about two weeks this will be a ginormous caterpillar. And yes, in case you are having trouble seeing it...

Here is an up close shot of the freshly hatched cat. It will eat a small bit more of the egg casing and then begin to chew on the monarch leaf itself. They are so small at this point that it will just chew the top few layers of the leaf and may not make a complete hole to the other side.

It is a dangerous world this tiny creature must face. So many things can eat it at this point. If it doesn't get eaten by some other insect or bird, there is still the danger that a wasp or fly will lay eggs inside the cat which will eat its insides, killing the monarch caterpillar when the larvae emerge through the skin. It truly is a miracle that any monarch caterpillar makes to a butterfly.

I was surprised to find a caterpillar that was about five days old nearby. It was all alone, perhaps all of the others its age were eaten? This cat was on a leaf with no chew marks which meant that it was probably shedding--chew marks draw attention to potential predators and lets them know you are nearby. If you want to shed your skin--a time when you are immobile and incredibly vulnerable, you want to be incognito.

If you look close in this photo, you can see the old head sliding down revealing the new larger head behind it. The new head is not only larger, but very yellow. The skin splits right about where the old head connects to the skin on the back. Once the head is off, the rest of the skin will be pushed towards the butt end of the caterpillar where it will collect in a small heap.

After looking through the milkweed, I noticed a downy woodpecker fly to a tree and disappear--then I saw the hole! When the bird would poke his head out of the hole, the black and white feathers totally blended into the tree. He must still be busy excavating the hole, you could see wood chips on the tip of his bill and the top of his head. Cute.