Antelope Horns and Monarchs

DuaeGuttae

Minister of Fire
Oct 26, 2016
682
Texas
My ten-year-old daughter got to be in charge of the release shots. She was having a lot of fun with close ups and angles.

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DuaeGuttae

Minister of Fire
Oct 26, 2016
682
Texas
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Today I walked to the “way, way back” of our property to check on things and was astounded by what I saw. It had only been a couple of weeks since I’d gone down there, but it was a wonderland of blooms. The area where we cleared so much horehound this spring and discovered the milkweed was ablaze with what I believe is showy nerveray, a plant endemic to Texas. [Edited to add: I don't think showy nerveray was the proper identification. I've now decided that it's Cowpen Daisy, also called Golden Crownbeard. It's still native, but not endemic, to Texas and a welcome replacement for Horehound.] It was so gratifying to see a native thriving and abuzz with all sorts of bees and butterflies. Monarchs have been passing through, but the past couple of days have brought us hundreds and hundreds of migrating American snout butterflies.

We’ve had a very dry year, even for Texas, until this month when we’ve received over 21 inches of rain. I’ve been taking advantage of the softer ground to pull more invaders, but I’ve also been enjoying the many other plants that are starting to thrive on our former “moonscape.” The first photo is the same land as the first picture in post 2.
 
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Soundchasm

Minister of Fire
Sep 27, 2011
1,297
Dayton, OH
www.soundchasm.com
What a wonderful transformation! That's kind of a theme here on this thread. ;-)

I told my wife about this thread, and she came home with black swallowtail caterpillars from the plant nursery where she works in the summer. Had a great success rate. Got the accoutrement in place, and then she discovered Monarch caterpillars on our milkweed. So in they come.

It blew my mind that the cats are so dang tiny and become orders of magnitude larger. She kept finding more and bringing more in. I told her she needed to stop because every time I went past the milkweed plants my phone went off with another Amber Alert.

I think our success rate was 4/5, roughly. Not every chrysalis was viable. One of the Monarchs seemed to have a deformity, but it finally straightened out and left. Another seemed slightly daft in the head and stayed for several days before it left.

Hard to believe how small they are and how big they get. Also, how much they eat and how much they poop.

We started to run low on Milkweed. I pictured my wife making nervous calls in a hushed voice trying to score some primo Milkweed... But we made it.

Hey, I looked into your handle and was wonderfully amused. I think I get it. OK, now a few pics.
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DuaeGuttae

Minister of Fire
Oct 26, 2016
682
Texas
Kudos to you and your wife! It’s a great project but requires some willingness to learn how to do it right, and I can only imagine how much milkweed you must have needed. We didn’t have too many plants on our property, and they were pretty much denuded by our population. I was excited when the seed pods matured and broke loose. I see the antelope horns in fields and ditches as I drive, but I’d be glad to have more right here.

We raised swallowtails in Virginia, and we see them flying all over here (tiger, spice bush, and a couple others that are new to me). I planted dill and parsley to encourage them, but my herbs would sprout and disappear. I have one parsley plant near my back door, and that’s it. (Actually, I have a basil crop that is thriving, and there are baby basil plants coming up in neighboring pots, but that’s not swallowtail food).

Your research into my handle may have led you to something amusing, and I appreciate your complimenting me by thinking I might be clever or something, but I’ll share the real story. The phrase means “two drops” in Latin (I taught that subject for many years). When my first child was a baby, I made a little song for her.

Sparkle, sparkle, little eyes.
How I wonder what you spy.
Up above a quite cute nose
Like two dewdrops on a rose,
Sparkle, sparkle, little eyes,
How I wonder what you spy.

I sang it to all four of mine when they were little (the youngest is still in diapers and learning to talk, but he’s getting so good at it that I know what he spies now. “Mommy, I see a truck. Mommy, I see a deer.”). At some point in those years it was an easy screenname for me to remember.

Do you have any photos of your mature butterflies? I’d love to show them to my kids if you do.
 
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Soundchasm

Minister of Fire
Sep 27, 2011
1,297
Dayton, OH
www.soundchasm.com
I'm sure my wife has pics on her machines. I'll get her to send me some.

Your handle story is better than my initial presumption. Since you had mentioned your five and ten year old, I assumed each was a "drop", and they were like two drops of water. Still a cool handle.

My handle relates to that terrifying space between silence and the first note of a musical project. Like Wile E. Coyote, I haven't the faintest notion when I'm going to look down, see nothing but air, and hold up a sign that says "Help!".
 

DuaeGuttae

Minister of Fire
Oct 26, 2016
682
Texas
I thought I'd add some photos I've taken this month as the wildflowers continue to thrive, and the butterflies fly. No antelope horns or Monarchs but the same genre.

I'm still learning the flora and fauna of this part of the world, and pictures help me as I research. Sometimes I have a very hard time getting any opportunity to focus on these flitting beauties, but I thought I'd share some of the better ones even if they are a little blurry at times.

The first is a Bordered Patch Butterfly, resting on Cowpen Daisy. I had incorrectly identified it earlier as Showy Nerveray, but the pictures weren't quite matching as I looked more closely. When I saw Cowpen Daisy photos, they seemed a more sure match, and the description of where it grows (disturbed or overgrazed soils, often limestone) and its deer resistance made a solid case. This little butterfly (and others like it) helped confirm that identification, though, as Cowpen Daisy is a host plant for the larva of the Bordered Patch Butterfly. We did see some caterpillars the other day.

The next two are a swallowtail, perhaps Pipevine. (I had been calling it a Spicebush to my children, but I think I was wrong about that, too.) We've been seeing these frequently on the Lantana and Prairie Verbena.

The orange butterfly is a Gulf Fritillary. These, too, have been common visitors to our flowers in recent weeks.

The last two shots were very hard to come by. I've been seeing Giant Swallowtails through the windows or when I'm outside without the camera, and my few attempts to grab the camera and get to them have failed. Today I took my toddler outside for some playtime, took the camera with me, and watched while he played. This Giant Swallowtail never stopped moving, and I had a hard time getting any shots at all, but he was a beauty. I've seen them a few times scouting out the citrus trees, so I'll be looking for caterpillars there, too.

Tonight the cold(ish) weather comes in along with more rain. I wonder if the butterflies could tell it was coming and were getting extra nectar today.

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DuaeGuttae

Minister of Fire
Oct 26, 2016
682
Texas
2019 Update

My kids and I did a little milkweed exploration on Friday in an area of land I needed to mow on Saturday, and we found three caterpillars. (I did my best to avoid all milkweed and other natives during the mowing, but we did bring the caterpillars inside first.) The Monarchs have been flying since March, and we’ve seen some holes in leaves or missing leaves, but this was our first spotting of live caterpillars.

The largest one my kids had some difficulty naming. It was at first Osiris, then Anubis, then I think it got changed back to Osiris as he died, having been parasitized while outside by a Tachinid fly. It was sad to see him try to form his J and not succeed. When he began to shrink, we knew he was being eaten and removed him from the cage.
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This next little guy was less than an inch long on Friday. The kids named him Ammit the Devourer because they knew he would eat. They were right. I think Ammit was solely responsible for eating all the flowers and leaves on one stalk of milkweed today.

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Poochiekins was in between Osiris and Ammit in size when he came in. He’s now larger than Osiris ever got, so we hope that means he has escaped being parasitized. Time will tell, and I don’t think it will be long before he’s ready to pupate.

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I’ll post more pictures as I can.

(Names chosen by a six and nine year old who’ve been recently reading Rick Riordan’s Kane Chronicles, just in case anyone is wondering.)
 

Soundchasm

Minister of Fire
Sep 27, 2011
1,297
Dayton, OH
www.soundchasm.com
How very cool. I thought I saw a monarch the other day, but in hindsight, I think it was a moth.

Thanks for the reminder. I've set my radar to the appropriate bandwidth.
 

DuaeGuttae

Minister of Fire
Oct 26, 2016
682
Texas
How very cool. I thought I saw a monarch the other day, but in hindsight, I think it was a moth.

Thanks for the reminder. I've set my radar to the appropriate bandwidth.
I’ll be interested to hear if you raise more this summer. We haven’t seen any more since my last report, but I have a few updates.

Ammit the Devourer sadly had been parasitized outside as well. I was suprised and nervous when she started making a J early, and at first she seemed to succeed. However, when the straightening wasn’t followed by pupating in short order, we knew it was best to remove her as well.

Poochiekins was healthy, however, and pupated 10 days ago. I don’t have a lot of photos because we were trying to catch the experience on time-lapse video. My nine-year-old son showed me how to do it, and we practiced one day with some neat videos of the caterpillars eating. I did catch the pupation but only just in time, so it’s not a great video (moving the camera, my messy kitchen too visible). I was ready for this morning, though.

The kids had noticed yesterday that Poochiekins’ wings were starting to show inside the chrysalis. Sure enough this morning, it was transparent. We needed to leave for church, but I was sure the enclosure was imminent. I spent some time with trivets and bookends trying to set the camera for the best shot. Sure enough, when we got home Poochiekins was resting at the top of the enclosure, almost ready to go. She was willing to sit on my hand in the house, but when we got near the open back door, she flew out on her own and went to bask in a live oak tree that overhangs our deck. The last photo my six year old took of her enjoying the sunshine there.


I recorded about four hours of video, which is condensed to about thirty seconds. It’s too large to post here, I’m afraid, but it was fun to have the kids be able to help me set it up and successfully record the enclosure to view when we got home.

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begreen

Mooderator
Staff member
Nov 18, 2005
85,089
South Puget Sound, WA
Such a cool family project and a good learning experience! Swallowtails showed up here last week. We're happy to have them back.
 

SpaceBus

Minister of Fire
Nov 18, 2018
4,774
Downeast Maine
This looks like a great spring project. I'll have to keep an eye out for caterpillars. So far spring is my least favorite season here in Maine. Raising butterflies might go a long ways in making it a little less drab.
 

Soundchasm

Minister of Fire
Sep 27, 2011
1,297
Dayton, OH
www.soundchasm.com
Not to derail or steal a thread, but we realized we had a hummingbird nest in a small, decorative birdhouse in the front yard. Well, blow me down! Got plenty of hummingbirds, but never have seen a nest. Will keep an eye on it and start a new thread when necessary.

What I have recently learned is that hummingbirds, like the Monarch, can return to the same tree, and even re-use the same nest. And that is after an epic migration to Mexico and back.

I can't even find my way to an in-law's house after six months...
 

DuaeGuttae

Minister of Fire
Oct 26, 2016
682
Texas
Such a cool family project and a good learning experience! Swallowtails showed up here last week. We're happy to have them back.

We love swallowtails, and all sorts fly here for a great deal of the year.

A gardening neighbor who knows I make my own pickles gave us some dill last week. I’ve been keeping it as a bouquet on the table until the next round of cucumbers comes in. As I was looking at it Sunday, I realized that the black spots I was seeing were first instar black swallowtail caterpillars that must have come in as eggs. We sterilized the aquarium, got some fresh dill cuttings, and established them in their new home. A few days later they’ve grown to second and third instar but are still less than an inch.

One thing that is particularly fun about these guys is that each instar changes not just its size but its appearance. The little orange protrusion in the third photo is the osmeterium, a defense mechanism. I must have been a threatening shadow when I snapped the photo. I’m sorry they’re not such great quality. These guys are so small that I had to zoom in a lot.
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DuaeGuttae

Minister of Fire
Oct 26, 2016
682
Texas
Yesterday evening. About 24 hours later but the same caterpillar.

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It was fun to see my nine-year-old son look into the aquarium and say “Wow!” when he saw this one.

The other three are hard for us to tell apart and pretty mobile in their dill forest. I think the children have decided to wait on naming this crew.
 

DuaeGuttae

Minister of Fire
Oct 26, 2016
682
Texas
They’re getting noticeably bigger by the day. They got all fresh food and cleaned quarters today.

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DuaeGuttae

Minister of Fire
Oct 26, 2016
682
Texas
At the top and bottom of the first photo are the “middle” two caterpillars. The second picture has the smallest/youngest and the biggest/oldest. The transformations even before the big metamorphosis are pretty impressive. I’ve taken to calling the largest caterpillar “Bubba,” but my children object strenuously. I think he’s getting himself settled in to pupate very soon. He was quite restless tonight, exploring the sticks I put in this morning and ignoring the dill.


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Soundchasm

Minister of Fire
Sep 27, 2011
1,297
Dayton, OH
www.soundchasm.com
My wife has found some cats and has the system in place. Will try to take some shots and post.
 

DuaeGuttae

Minister of Fire
Oct 26, 2016
682
Texas
It’s been a while since I posted on this thread, mostly because I haven’t downloaded my better butterfly photos off of my camera. I thought it was time for an update anyway.

The round of swallowtails described above eclosed in late June. We then raised two more that we found on our dill when we were harvesting it for pickles. Dill does not fare well in Texas summers, so when it died back, we started having to check our parsley very carefully. The last swallowtail we raised narrowly avoided being put in a crock pot of beef stew, but thankfully I saw him at the last minute. He just eclosed on Saturday.

Here’s a shot of one of the black swallowtails drying his wings on a crape myrtle.

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I thought we were done raising butterflies for the season, but now I’m not so sure. My husband and I wanted to screen and shade some outdoor equipment, and so we built a big arched trellis and planted a variety of passion flowers on either side. (This is the ornamental Lady Margaret.) These are very attractive to Gulf Fritillaries, and we are enjoying watching the vivid orange butterflies. Just looking out the window with my toddler, I counted at least five caterpillars on one plant this morning, and my seven year old told me that she thought it was time to bring one in. We’ll see.

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begreen

Mooderator
Staff member
Nov 18, 2005
85,089
South Puget Sound, WA
That is a beauty. Have you thought about starting a milkweed patch and raising some monarchs?
 

DuaeGuttae

Minister of Fire
Oct 26, 2016
682
Texas
That is a beauty. Have you thought about starting a milkweed patch and raising some monarchs?
Yes! I planted I think eight or nine different Asclepias tuberosa in beds around my house last year. Unfortunately even with my diligent watering they succumbed to drought and some got eaten off. We do have voracious deer, but I didn’t think they’d eat milkweed. Possibly an armadillo dug some up. (Watering attracts the soil critters that the armadillos like to eat, so it can be a challenge to get small plants established.). Anyway, I haven’t tried again yet because of many other projects.

Thankfully we do have several patches of the native asclepias asperula (the antelope horns of the title and early posts) that we are protecting. We’ve continued the battle against exotic invasives and have seen more native wildflowers move in as a result. It’s been encouraging, though there’s still a lot of work to be done in helping such overgrazed land recover. We definitely want to use our few acres to allow native plants and wildlife to thrive. (Well, I’m not actively encouraging coral snakes or rattlers around the house, and the children are strictly instructed not to play in the rock pit at the back of the property.)
 
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SpaceBus

Minister of Fire
Nov 18, 2018
4,774
Downeast Maine
I found a small caterpillar on my arm the other day so I put it with some vegetation in a Mason jar with some holes in the lid. The little caterpillar is so small I couldn't identify him and now I can't find it in the jar anymore ;lol
 
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Soundchasm

Minister of Fire
Sep 27, 2011
1,297
Dayton, OH
www.soundchasm.com
We've done one round of swallowtails, and the wife has just begun to discover some monarchs, and the system has been set up.
I'll try to get a count and see what the inventory is.
 
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DuaeGuttae

Minister of Fire
Oct 26, 2016
682
Texas
I found a small caterpillar on my arm the other day so I put it with some vegetation in a Mason jar with some holes in the lid. The little caterpillar is so small I couldn't identify him and now I can't find it in the jar anymore ;lol
If he is still in the jar, you should see frass (droppings) on the bottom. If not, he may have escaped. They can be really hard to see when they’re small and under leaves, so checking for frass is the best bet.

Another thing to be careful about is to make sure that any caterpillars you have can’t fall into whatever it is that provides water to your plant. I use a small container with a plastic lid. I cut slits in the lid and slide the plant stems in there.

It can be tricky to raise a caterpillar that is away from its host plant. You said it was on your arm. Do you know what plants it was feeding on? If you chose some leaves that weren’t actually its host plant, it may have tried hard to escape to get back to its preferred diet. Or it may be loving what you gave it and munching away in seclusion. Just check for those droppings.
 

DuaeGuttae

Minister of Fire
Oct 26, 2016
682
Texas
We've done one round of swallowtails, and the wife has just begun to discover some monarchs, and the system has been set up.
I'll try to get a count and see what the inventory is.
I was just looking at your photos from last year. If this year is anything like it, I hope you have a huge milkweed patch. It can get a little nerve wracking when they become ravenous teenagers, and you wonder if the new stalks you give them at bedtime will even last through morning.
 
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DuaeGuttae

Minister of Fire
Oct 26, 2016
682
Texas
We didn't raise any Monarchs this spring. We had some swallowtail caterpillars that I was letting eat my dill in the garden in the spring, but I think birds may have gotten them before they could mature. I didn't think we'd raise any butterflies at all this year, but a couple of weeks ago I discovered one munching on a Satsuma that we had planted in the ground this spring. Giant Swallowtails fly in this area and use citrus trees as host plants, and their caterpillars look like bird poop, according to the experts, so I figured that's what I had found. That particular Satsuma had suffered a couple of croppings from some aggressive deer, and so I didn't really want it to be the host, so I brought four caterpillars inside on their leaves. Three of them seemed dehydrated, and I wasn't sure they were even alive. The two smallest didn't make it, but the original that I had noticed and another middle-sized one have been growing.
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Just a few weeks ago (before I found the caterpillars) I had identified a few mystery plants growing in my back yard as suckers from trifoliate orange rootstock (probably from grafted plants that the previous owners had planted but that had died before we moved in). Thankfully I hadn't cut them yet, and the caterpillars eat it readily. Even with only two, they can strip a whole (small) branch in a day. As of last night, the two successful caterpillars have "J'd," and so I have hope for chrysalides soon. I don't know if they will overwinter based on the season of the year, or if they'll eclose in weeks because of more constant temperatures in my house . (We had a brief cold snap here last week, so their being inside meant that it was in the 60's and 70's instead of the 30's for them one day. It's back up to the 70's and sunny during the days now.)

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I'm very much looking forward to seeing what happens.

These two are named Zinga and Zestus, by the way.
 

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