rose_cat: (Default)
…when you’re an itty bitty critter! (Also, happy belated St. Patrick’s Day.)


Cone-headed grasshopper, Ninoy Aquino Parks and Wildlife Center, Quezon City, Philippines
Photo by Rundstedt B. Rovillos

fourteen more pics, all child/work-safe; 5 and 10 are spiders )
rose_cat: (damselfly)
Well, after what was shaping up to be a disastrous year for monarch reproduction here in the garden, I got a successful round in late summer/early autumn. I wasn’t seeing any more wasps by then, although one chrysalis appeared to have been taken by one anyway. But that's nothing compared to the awful toll the wasps took in the spring: two entire batches of caterpillars! Some of the cats that made it to the chrysalis stage succumbed to the Dread Disease, either before or during emergence, but that seems to be normal these days. I’m still trying to get my notes together for a detailed account, but if I recall correctly, at least ten butterflies made it to maturity and flew away.

What’s more, yet another group – starting with eggs in early October – has now made it to the pupal stage. I really wasn’t expecting any more this year! Although it’s not the first time they’ve bred this late, I hadn’t anticipated another try. Maybe there’s some way for the butterflies to know that they’ve had so little success that they might as well have another go at it. Apparently the monarchs have had better luck elsewhere this year. (How far away that could reasonably be, I don’t know. Eventually I’ll look into it, I’m sure.)

So, there are now eighteen chrysalises (wow!) hanging around the yard in various places. After my initial count – the usual few days of walking and crawling around the yard with my eyes peeled, plus some careful trimming of the ever-popular geraniums -- one of them vanished, leaving only a bit of the stipe (the stem from which the chrysalis hangs) behind. Some predator – a lone wasp, perhaps – must have snipped it off and carried it away.

Just a day later, however, I made one more muddy crawl to comb carefully through the long grass stems against the wood fence. There turned out to be one more chrysalis under the fence’s lowest rail, which is about 9” (23cm) off the ground. I know I’d checked that area, but not with my eyes 9” from the ground. I could sure use a shrink ray sometimes. (Then again, maybe not the best idea…)

Just before the fully-grown cats took off on their final trek, though, I counted twenty. One of them may have died. Or, maybe there’s a chrysalis still out there waiting to emerge and surprise me. That's always fun.

So, eighteen that I know of. They’re all still green, which is good, since the weather’s been mostly cold and rainy for several days. It’s warming up again. A week or so of nice warm days, and they could all turn dark, emerge as beautiful adult monarchs, and fly away to the milder coast, Mexico, or wherever they want to spend the rest of their butterfly lives.

Unless they decide to stay around and try for three? Yesterday I discovered three eggs on the milkweed. Oh, for god’s sake…
rose_cat: (damselfly)
Yesterday's monarch count: 44 eggs, 6 caterpillars. Four cats were 4mm; two, 11mm. The larger ones were both in the more sheltered bed area, on the plant right next to the wall, on leaves as low and close to the wall as they could get. I don't think that's a coincidence.

While I was counting, paper wasps kept showing up and trying to hunt. I had my Safer's insectidal soap and sprayed them. I used the narrow nozzle instead of the wide spray, hoping I'd be less likely to hit a caterpillar. (Safer's is like using very soapy water; it has to get on the insect to kill it, and is ineffective once it dries.) Twice the wasp got away -- hopefully I got enough on it to doom it -- but I managed to knock two to the ground and stomp on them. I wiped the leaves I'd sprayed as well as I could to help protect the cats. Considering the damage the wasps can do, I thought it was worth the risk.

Here are some photos of a wasp I took in summer last year.

two images, and the rest of the post )
rose_cat: (damselfly)
Monarch count today: 28 eggs, 60 caterpillars. 59 of the cats ranged from about 3-4mm; one was about 31mm. That's 22 fewer eggs than three days ago, but only 5 more cats. The 31mm cat has got to be one of the ones that were 25mm on Monday, but the other two are gone. Aside from that, how many eggs hatched into caterpillars, how many died, and how many cats died is anybody's guess.

I wish I knew a good way to mark the caterpillars. Even if there was something that was harmless and could be applied to a soft-bodied creature as small as 1mm, it would just be molted off with the old skin. A microchip would be good, since I could just wave a scanner over the plants. A very small microchip... Dream on, I guess.

It was after 10 PM when I finished the count. By then I had a desk lamp out there, but because the cord is so short and the electrical outlets so few and so oddly placed (who the hell designed that?), the sliding door had to be open quite a bit. This being the time of year for June bugs (which are actually not bugs, but a type of scarab beetle), several showed up and thunked off the lamp. Of course some of them ended up flying into the bedroom.

When B gives Missy her nightly treats, he throws them up and down the hall, in various rooms, etc. Tonight one toss ricocheted off a door frame and disappeared. Missy hunted all over until she spied a spot on the rug. It wasn't the treat; it was a confused June bug. Missy sniffed at it and then turned to stare at me expectantly. Sorry, Missy. Mom will do almost anything for you, but even she can't turn beetles into treats.
rose_cat: (damselfly)
Latest monarch count on Monday, June 17: 50 eggs, 55 caterpillars. That's 38 more cats than on the 14th, but 86 fewer eggs. Obviously not all of the eggs are going to make it to hatching, but considering that adults are still showing up to lay additional eggs, and that most of the cats this time were 3mm or less, it's not a good sign. I hadn't seen any cats last time that would have been big enough to move on to the next stage.

I found three dead caterpillars on the ground next to the pot. They'd clearly died from infection (which can have various causes), and I got rid of the bodies and tore off some milkweed leaves that had nasty infectious caterpillar juice on them. One of them had made it to around 25mm (1") before expiring. Dammit!

Anyway, eight of the cats were newly hatched at about 1mm (1/25"); the rest were around 3mm (1/8"), except for three about 25mm (1"). The larger ones, apparently the only survivors from the earlier group, were in the milkweed patch against the wall, not in the big pot. That area has, in the past, been less affected by disease and whatever else kills off caterpillars. I have no idea why. Perhaps it's got something to do with being more sheltered, even though, with less sun, the plants don't grow as big. Or maybe it's something else.

Although it concerns me that so many caterpillars are newly or recently hatched, at least they are hatching, and chomping away. Whatever killed the older ones off, maybe the second wave will do better. At least I hope so.

While I was crouching over the plants, a Cooper's hawk flew over the yard, pip-pipping, and coasted right past the palm tree where the crows are nesting. Oddly, there wasn't a peep out of them. Maybe the parents were out foraging. And a woodpecker was calling from somewhere in the neighborhood.
rose_cat: (jaypeg)
More stats on the monarchs.

Wednesday, June 12: 138 eggs, 14 caterpillars.

Friday, June 14: 116 eggs, 17 caterpillars. Six had just hatched (about 1mm long); one was so new it was still eating its empty egg case. (Here's a photo.) Two were 44.5mm (1-3/4"), and the rest ranged from 9.5mm (3/8") to 22.2mm (7/8").

I saw a paper wasp today. GET THE HELL OUT OF MY YARD.

In other news, there's a house wren living in or near the back yard. Whenever I take Missy out, it hops into view and scolds. I'm trying to get some photos, but it pops in and out of the foliage, as wrens do. The crows are raising another brood way the heck up in a palm tree, and the babies are starting to get noisy. The adults are on edge and chasing everything in the neighborhood that looks like a threat, including a kestrel that's no bigger than a city pigeon. Silly birds!

There's a green lynx spider in the geraniums out front. Including legs, it's about half an inch long. I'm watching out for it when I deadhead the flowers.
rose_cat: (damselfly)
It's been hot and dry and a little bit windy, but the monarch caterpillars are coming along. I'm doing a few counts.

Friday, June 7: 26 eggs, 20 caterpillars. The cats ranged from approximately 3mm (1/8"), the size of a new hatchling, all the way up to one relative monster at 31.75mm (1-1/4"). Most of them were around 15.9mm (5/8"). I did see an adult butterfly sailing around the yard; it may have been a female laying eggs. Somebody certainly is!

Sunday, June 9: 87 eggs, 15 caterpillars. About three of the cats were hatchling size; the rest were from 19mm (3/4") to 25mm (1"). Two of the largest ones, now in the small bed of plants, had most likely migrated from the big pot. Maybe they were running away from the ants. I'm pretty sure the ants (which keep bringing aphids to the plants, mostly in the big pot) are responsible for there being fewer caterpillars. (Except for the large one I knelt on when I wasn't paying attention. DAMMIT.) Although the weird weather -- hot, cool, then hot again -- may be a factor.

I need to get, or make, a proper bird bath so I can liberate the saucer I've been using and put it back under the big milkweed pot. The caterpillars need a moat.

I also need a better way of measuring the cats. A metal tape measure is not a good thing to have near a soft insect, and my finger isn't very accurate. I can't find a ruler around here to save my life.

Monday, June 10: 128 eggs, 16 caterpillars. Most of the cats were in the 6.4mm to 9.5mm range (1/4" to 3/8"), but three were over 31.75mm (1-1/4"), one of which, at 44.5mm (1-3/4"), looks big enough to take off for its pupating spot. That is, if it doesn't get eaten first. There was an additional big cat dead on the ground, but it wasn't squished. Wasp, disease or ant bites? The ants were happy, anyway. It's tough out there for a caterpillar.

A female adult was visiting the plants today and laying eggs. Keep 'em coming, girls!
rose_cat: (damselfly)
(and I'm staying away from the bathroom scale)

A couple of days ago, I noticed a tiny swallowtail caterpillar on one of the newly-leafed-out wild fennel plants. Today the plant was all adroop. The stem had broken off somehow. I couldn't find the caterpillar :( but I did find a swallowtail egg :D I've never seen an actual egg! I tucked the dying plant in amongst the foliage of the others, so the hatching caterpillar will be able to find a good feeding ground.

The milkweed plants are well-leafed too, which is good, because I counted eight monarch caterpillars in the big pot, ranging from .5 to 1.5 cm (1/5 to 3/5 of an inch) in length, vigorously chomping away. No paper wasps in sight yet. Fingers crossed, fingers crossed...
rose_cat: (damselfly)
Twenty-two monarch chrysalises out in the garden now. TWENTY-TWO!

I doubt if they'll all make it to healthy adulthood -- chrysalises die, or the butterflies don't emerge properly, or are deformed, for all sorts of reasons -- but I've got my fingers crossed. If at least half of them come out looking good and fly away strongly, I'll be happy.

I've got pictures back of all the chrysalises but one, and I'll get them up ASAP. I'd like to make a map of the yard and where they've ended up, but that's going to take some time.

I want to do one more search (crawling around at caterpillar level), and maybe I'll find a few more. All of the caterpillars -- except for one that doesn't look like it's going to make it -- have gone and done their thing now.

I'm hoping the nice weather will hold for a couple more weeks so they can finish developing, emerge and get on with their lives.

talk about spiders, but no pics )


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