Thursday, July 5, 2012

Monarch butterfly

What: The milkweed has certainly got my attention this time of year. I spotted a monarch near the milkweed in the front of my house and my heart immediately skipped a beat with the anticipation that it might lay an egg on one of the stalks. Sure enough it did!! I told my mom I'd get her a monarch chrysalis for her birthday, so hopefully these little caterpillars will make it to the pupal stage. The eggs hatch in about 4-5 days, so and I took the above photo on Saturday. Yesterday when I went out in the evening I took the photo below:

In about 2 weeks the caterpillar will begin the process of metamorphosis, and 10 days later it will emerge a beautiful butterfly (and die 2-6 weeks later after giving birth to the next generation). Given the timing of this hatch, this should be the 2nd or 3rd generation of the year. The 4th generation is born in the fall and migrates down towards Mexico. This generation will live around 6 months.

Monarch egg on underside of milkweed leaf

I tried to catch a video of the monarch laying its egg, but I didn't have much success. They only land on the leaf for a couple of seconds and then they're off flying in crazy, unpredictable patterns (possibly to make it harder for birds to catch them on the wing?). She would lay an egg, then flap around for a few minutes before returning to lay another egg (one at a time, I watched her lay about 2 dozen in 20 minutes). The eggs were all on the under side of the leaf and always on milkweed. A couple of times she landed on a nearby Jerusalem artichoke or a beggars tick, but far more often than not it was on milkweed.

Ecological notes: I was impressed with the number of other insects making use of the milkweed. There were more tortoise beetles, some ants, an ear wig, a cabbage moth, a spider eating what looked like a June bug, and lots of long-legged flies (Dolichopodidae).

Where: Milkweed patch in my front yard.

Other notes: More cicadas singing, plus a pair of mourning doves making a nest in the boxelder across the street. I'll post more on that soon.

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