April 13, 2007

Raising Monarch Butterflies: The Journals

This Journal I dedicate to Monarch Butterflies NZ Trust and to thousands of people who have been devoting their time in their garden to help to raise Monarch butterflies.

I reported the sighting of Monarch butterflies in my home garden to the Monarch Butterflies NZ Trust as early as I noticed caterpillars on my Swan Plants, and had good responses from the people who run the Trust (Jacqui and Gilly, you rock, guys!). I was very glad indeed to find lovely people who have common interests as mine which usually hardly can be found around the neighborhood.

I've been developing this nurturing relationship with these beautiful creatures. I was watching closely the butterflies fluttering around my 9 swan plants at the front porch and they didn't mind me sneaking around to capture the very moment with my little camera. I did my best not to disturb them. My children were sneaking around the plants quietly as I was motionless giving them the message to let these butterflies have their own moment.

I have observed about how she lays eggs is to put the end of her abdomen near the desired leave which is always on the back side of the leaves within a few seconds, then off she will fly again to find another chosen leave. She repeats the process several times, and she will fly off. Then she will come again or perhaps another one, how should I know? These butterflies are not tagged.

yum! yum! by ab 07-09

Then within a few days, I see baby caterpillars start to nibble the leaves, then I realize I have around 20-30 caterpillars on my plants. I started to get worried if they will have enough surplus of food for them to help them develop into pupa and then butterflies. The adult butterflies came each day to lay more eggs, so I didn't really know what to do. I thought when the nature believes to be survived, then let them be the survivors. I will help them.

So, each day, I checked them up, perhaps a few times in a couple of hours. Until one day I found one of the earliest caterpillars had developed to be a pupa, I was so thrilled. I thought well, that was alright. The next day I looked at it again, and I was very shocked that I couldn't find it. The thing left on the bottom leave was its skin. At that very moment, I just knew what to do as I saw some wasps were flying above the caterpillars compound.

I started to look for some old sheets which I thought would be good to cover them. I was thinking about windbreak sheets, but I thought my husband had done the roll around the vegetable garden. I then found similar things: a greenhouse Summer cover, a mozzie sheet my husband bought from Bali a few years ago and was unused until we have a similar balai we have in Ubud, and I also found a sheet of trapauline. I thought they would do and I started to cover them the way I thought they would work. And since that day, me and kids were busy to take the caterpillars which got lost outside to the swan plants inside the netted area.

We still see more Monarchs come over to lay more eggs, but I can't take a risk to open the cover as wasps are always lurking. I would love to have them lay more eggs, but we have very limited food for the whole caterpillars. I also think that the whole plants won't be enough to cover the needs of 20-30 caterpillars at times. I'm just hoping they'll find a good home for their next caterpillars and butterflies-to-be.

My caterpillars then became really quiet and tended to motionless on the back of a leave or on the ceiling of nets. They begin to curl up with a silk pad which emerged from its end of abdomen and followed by a very fragile string (cremaster), hanging upside down, like a bat. I realized that they'll soon split their exoskeleton while spinding the wax around until it's all covered and all green with a gold ring and little dots just below the abdominal segments and above the wings-to-be.


One thing I noticed that the latest caterpillars which I think didn't get enough swan plants failed to pupate entirely. So it's like half-caterpillar and half-pupa. I can't describe how disappointed I am. I think I've lost 5-10 caterpillars at the most. Another problem is that the strong wind we've been receiving makes more possibility to lose more the caterpillars which are just developing into crhysallies (pupa). I found 5 half-done crhysallies laying on the ground and 2 more harder ones which were blown by the wind. I put these two back on a safe place inside the net. I've done what I can to save them. I'm just hoping their hard wax will protect them from any disturbance they may encounter to develop their organs. Otherwise, I will lose two more butterflies-to-be crhysallies.

Yesterday, I found out that 4 of earliest crhysallies had become blackened, which means in a couple of hours the butterflies had finished their cycles inside and are ready to come out.

newborn Monarch butterfly by ab 07-09

This is the result! A beautiful Monarch Butterfly! A newborn! Yay!!!


Gilly said...

Thank you Arfi - lovely pictures and thanks for supporting our work!

Arfi Binsted said...

Gilly-the pleasure is mine!

Barbara said...

I saw Monarchs in our courtyard recentely.

Arfi Binsted said...

barb-now, that's a good sign. they love buddleia. i think it's close to migrating time. mine are 10 pupas left.

Bron said...

Wow!! Super pics!
We have a Monarch visit every now and then, great science lesson for your little ones!

Arfi Binsted said...

yes, indeed, bron! they even were watching the butterflies nibbled their way out of the cocoon!