A nice drama has been playing out in my front yard for the last month. I never get tired of watching this all play out. The Monarchs came, laid their eggs, caterpillars appeared, the milkweed got eaten to an inch of its life, caterpillars cocooned, the milkweed scattered tons of seeds, and finally, the monarchs hatched. People walk by all day long and have no idea what’s quietly going on in my garden.
I was reading about butterflies and moths the other day, and I learned a few things. Their wings are transparent, but covered with thousands of scales which give color to the wings. As butterflies and moths get older the colors on their scales fade. Butterflies taste with their feet. Moths and butterflies use their antenna for smelling. Their legs are weak and can only walk very short distances. Moths and butterflies suck nectar from flowers with a proboscis which rolls up when not in use.
Butterflies and moths are different in a number of ways, but none of the rules is true in all cases. So here goes:
Butterflies rest with their wings folded up so the undersides show while moths fold back so the topsides are visible.
Butterflies fly during the day and moths tend to fly at night.
Butterflies typically have knobs on the ends of their antennae while moths have plain or feathery antenna, or none at all.
Butterflies tend to have thin, hairless bodies and moths typically have thick, hairy bodies.
Butterfly caterpillars form a chrysalis from a sticky fluid that hardens while moths wrap up in silk cocoons or bury themselves in dirt.
Here’s a great online resource for butterflies and moths.
I’m sure you’ve seen the Butterfly Alphabet, but I’m going to show you again. This site tells the story of how the Butterfly Alphabet was compiled. It took 24 years!
I saw this little beauty at Walter Andersen Nursery this week.
Today was hatching day for a monarch butterfly in my yard. Yesterday’s post showed the beautiful chrysalis and today started out much the same, but by noon we had a new butterfly out in the garden.
It's almost time!!!
I kept watch for the hatching, but ultimately missed the big event. It happened pretty quickly, inside a half hour.
The new butterfly spent a few hours resting and drying out its wings.
A bed of lemon balm to rest and spread wings
The detail of the butterfly wings is stunning! A work of art.
Butterfly wings up close
Out on the milkweed a new generation is munching away. Hopefully, I’ll have a continuous cycle of caterpillars, chrysalis’ and butterflies in the yard.
The next generation
In the big picture it was just a blip, but it was a big deal for me!
All this happened in my front yard yesterday. A very interesting weather pattern rolled through here today and by mid-morning lightning was striking close by every few minutes, followed immediately by growling, cracking and rolling thunder. Rain fell sporadically in big, ploppy drops, enough to give a nice drink to the garden. After listening from my desk for awhile, I couldn’t stand it anymore and had to go stand out in the garden in the middle of the action.
It smelled very tropical out there, with warm humidity, flowers, and earthy smells wafting up from the light rain. The raindrops were big and ploppy, and the thunder was spectacular. It was growling (I’ve never heard that before!),cracking and rolling across the sky. I LOVED IT!!! I missed my days of living in Germany when the summer thunderstorms occurred on a regular basis. It was a real treat to have here on the last day of September.
Last week after I wrote about my milkweed being eaten up and wondered what happened to the caterpillars that were munching it. A few days later, I found a chrysalis hanging on an echeverria leaf about 8 feet away. It was like a beautful little jewel, green with a gold (yes, shiny gold) band and gold dots. Beautiful.
During the storm yesterday, I checked on the chrysalis to make sure the leaf it was hanging from hadn’t been blown over. I was surprised to find a monarch butterfly hanging next to the chrysalis! My little garden jewel hatched! It’s a miracle!
An hour later I went out to check on it and it was resting on top of my lemon balm.
And then it was gone. The whole process was done within hours and I’m sorry I wasn’t able to see it from start to finish, but a quiet, little miracle happened in my front yard and I was there.
I bought a Milkweed plant at last spring’s Master Gardener Seminar plant sale to try out. The variety I bought is called “Family Jewels,” I’m not sure why, but it has pretty little white flowers which might be interpreted differently if I was a guy, but I digress….
I put the plant in a tub initially, but later replanted it out front, by the sidewalk. It got a bit leggy, but it was a substantial plant and finally the caterpillars showed up. They were very active and really ate with gusto. They were very small at first but, within two weeks, they grew to about 1 1/2 inches long with beautiful markings and black antennae.
After the flowers finished blooming, these puffballs formed and the largest one grew to two inches across.
One morning last week I went out to look at the plant and check on the caterpillars and this is what I found. Milkweed demolished, puffballs had opened up and caterpillars are nowhere to be found. I hope they have found a hiding spot in the garden and will emerge as butterflies eventually.
Sad, sad Milkweed but the caterpillars were well fed!
In the meantime, I found this chrysalis under a sage leaf and have determined that it is a Black Swallowtail pupa.
I think I’ll go out and neaten up the Milkweed with a trim. It certainly can’t hurt!!!