Minor Monarch Release

Yesterday when I was trying to get ready to go to The Raptor Center, I noticed that one of my monarch chrysalises was about ready emerge. Wow, that was fast. Seemed like it was only yesterday this guys made the pretty, green chrysalis. Right before the monarch emerges, the chrysalis turns dark and you can see the butterfly on the inside. I wish I could have gotten a photo of it as soon as it came out--they look deformed. Ah well, another time.

When I came home from TRC, I made some lunch and sat on the couch...I noticed the chrysalis was empty and paused to try and see where the butterfly was hanging out in my apartment. Then I noticed some fluttering and found it at one of the windows. It had emerged, had plenty of time to pump moisture into it's wings and was ready for forage for nectar. I didn't see any dark spots on the lower wings, which means this was a female monarch. I opened the window and tried to get a video of her release from my apartment:

After she landed, I set up my digiscoping equipment and got a few shots of the monarch resting on a tree:

Then she flew off to search for nectar. She will also search for a male for mating and eggs will grow into the monarchs who will migrate south into Mexico this fall.

Caterpillar Parasites

This post is going to get kinda gross. You may not want to read it during a meal if you have a sensitive tummy.

"Sigh, will I ever be that big?"

Last week, I did my segment on Showcase Minnesota about the Monarch Ranching Class that I'm doing at Staring Lake Nature Center July 7. Non Birding Bill and I grabbed some milkweed plants at Loring Park and they were loaded with monarch caterpillars of all sizes.

Here is a leaf with small, medium, and large monarch caterpillars. I generally don't like to get a caterpillar as large as the one on the right--too much of a risk of a parasite but I needed cats for all sizes for the tv demo. Wasps and flies (and who knows what else) will lay their eggs in caterpillars. The wasp or fly larvae will feed on the inside of the caterpillar and about the time it forms a chrysalis, it will pop out. Yeah, it's as gross as it sounds.

After I finished the segment, I brought the milkweed home and set it in a glass full of water. I normally don't like to put milkweed in a glass of water, on the off chance that a caterpillar could fall into the water and drown, but this time, I'm glad I did.

The next day, one of the monarch caterpillars went on a "walk about"--a long journey to find the perfect place to form a chrysalis. It stopped at the top of our living room window frame and we thought, not the place we would pick, but safe enough in our apartment to chrysalize.

That night before we went to bed, he assumed the "J Position" and worked to shed his skin. We noticed another monarch caterpillar J-ing out on a monarch leaf. We tucked ourselves into bed, excited to find chrysalis the next morning.

Alas, I found one of our caterpillars shriveled up. It was dead--my fears were confirmed. If you look up at the third set of legs, you will see a bit of film--the left overs of fly larvae that had emerged from the caterpillar.

I looked up to the caterpillar that had been at the top of the window frame and found it had made it as far as forming an actual chrysalis, but the slimy rope hanging from it, showed that fly larvae had emerged--ew. All that milkweed chewing for nothing! The maggots emerge form the caterpillars when they are ready to pupate.

Since the larvae dropped straight down from the caterpillar and chrysalis, they ended up in the bottom of the glass of water and drown! Too late for the caterpillars I had, but at least they won't be getting future monarchs. Take that, you nasty maggot. I know you have to survive, just not on my monarchs.

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.

Random Bird Entry to Post Photos

I have a hunch that it's gonna be a good year for monarch butterflies. I have seen quite a few already and I am seeing eggs everywhere! Way more than I did this time last year. In the above photo you can see two eggs on the young milkweed plants in the front. If you're having trouble seeing them, here is a close up photo:

See the white speck--that's the monarch egg. Normally, I would start collecting these eggs for some monarch ranching (raising monarch caterpillars indoors and then releasing them when they emerge as butterflies) but I'm going to one more bird fest next week. I'll start when I get back from that one.

Hey, anyone want to take a last minute trip to North Dakota for the Potholes and Prairie Festival, let me know. I got a great deal on a cabin. Plus, if you say you're with the Birdchick Posse, I think you can still get the Early Bird Registration festival rate. I would have mentioned it sooner, but the offer was last minute. Don't forget, you get to meet the fabulous Julie Zickefoose and Bill of the Birds.

I found a pair of savanna sparrows singing where I saw the bobolink last week. I just really sat and listened to them for awhile, trying to really work out what they sound like in real life compared to the grasshopper sparrow I saw and heard on Friday. I think I'm going to make this the summer of sparrows for me and just really try to spend enjoying their songs. In depth brown bird enjoyment--it's a sickness, I know.

Most of the goldfinch males have finally made the transition into breeding plumage. Some birders have been lamenting that the warbler waves are done and the excitement for spring is gone, but I think color can still be found for quite some time.

Speaking of color, I think I've stumbled on a new and better name for the red-bellied woodpecker...red-eyed woodpecker! C'mon, it's easier to see the eyes than the red belly.