Saturday, August 30, 2014

Monarch Caterpillar to Chrysalis 8-29-2014

This event started about 10:00 am when I brought the caterpillar in the "J" stage into the office.
Zero hour, 10:51am

Little change but in the last hour I could see small contractions in the body segments, 5 hr, 22 min

The indication that the change was about to take place is when the tentacles went limp. The head and thorax are much lighter and the segment behind the head is swelling. The body is slowly beginning to straighten.   8hr, 39 min

The body has straightened and swollen moving the position of the forward true legs and the rear pro-legs. The head end is beginning to swell out of proportion to the body.   The outer skin (exoskeleton) begins to be forced upward as the pupa emerges from the split in the skin behind the head.  9 hr, 31 min.

The head end continues to swell and the pupa is moving in ripples forcing the skin upward like a sock pushed down around your ankle.   Things are progressing very rapidly at this point.  The next several shots happen within a few seconds of each other.  9 hr, 31min.

The ripple movements continue, the skin is forced away from the head end taking the old head covering with it.  9 hr, 31 min

The skin including head and legs continues to be forced upward exposing more of what will become the adult head, abdomen and wings.  9 hr, 32 min.

The pupa, nearly free of the skin, begins to move erratically in order to shed the old skin.  9hr, 33 min.

The skin is forced away from the pupa as it continues it's contortions and the pupa begins to shrink in size. The outside of the pupa appears very moist.  9 hr, 33 min.

The skin drops away and the movements begin to slow and the pupa continues to shrink. The tiny dimple between the two black dots near the upper attachment indicates that this adult will be a male Monarch Butterfly.  9 hr, 37 min.

The pupa is at rest after this considerable transformation. The pupa continues to shrink and the tiny gold spots that will adorn the chrysalis begin to appear.  9 hr, 58 min.

The exterior of the chrysalis begins to smooth and harden.  This the the opposite side of the chrysalis showing the Gold Crown of this truly deserving Monarch.  Sleep well my friend, your journey has not ended.  10 hr, 51 min.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Caterpillar Update - Day 9

Our caterpillar buddy is now at approximately 26mm.  It has grown over 1 inch since it hatched 9 days ago.  This week I have released 4 adults (3 F, 1 M) and collected 3 caterpillars.  Today I added another 4 eggs to the nursery.  It looks like the female Monarchs are now selecting the very youngest milkweed leaves on which to lay their eggs and 2 of the eggs I found today were deposited on the top of the leaves. In our same butterfly garden today I saw what appeared to be a Spicebush Swallowtail laying eggs on Sassafrass leaves.  Unfortunately, today I also lost a chrysalis to Tachinid Fly larvae infestation.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Monarch Butterfly Emerging from Chrysalis

This sequence took 13 minutes from beginning to end.  10 minutes later another adult emerged and I got another sequence of photos. Notice the size of the abdomen. It is full of the liquid that is pumped into the wings to expand them and the abdomen is flexed to pump the liquid until the wings are at flight capability. The butterfly will be ready for flight after about 5 hours. The butterfly will flex it's proboscis (tongue) and expel the excess fluid from it's abdomen prior to flight.  This Monarch will be tagged and released Wednesday morning at Fox Island County Park.
Photos: J. Ormiston

Caterpillar Update - Day 7

7 days ago this Monarch Butterfly Caterpillar hatched and began it's journey to adulthood.  The caterpillar is barely 4mm long and all but invisible to the naked eye.
Today the same caterpillar is 14mm and growing. The scale in both pictures is the same. In about 7 more days the caterpillar will be 50mm long and nearing the chrysalis stage. At this stage a caterpillar will eat nearly one entire 3" milkweed leaf in 24 hours.
Photos: J. Ormiston

Monday, August 25, 2014

Elegant(?) Stinkhorn Fungi

If you've looked out the windows of the former Bird Observation Building at Fox Island Park in the last couple of weeks you have probably noticed that the mulch under the bird feeders has several red spikes rising out of it that are about 6" to 8" tall. These spikes are actually a fungi known as Elegant Stinkhorn (Mutinus elegans). While this fungi is a colorful contrast to the brown mulch the smell given off by these slimy spikes reminds one of rotting meat.
Like the plant Skunk Cabbage the smell given off by this fungi serves to attract flies that land on the smelly slime covering and eat some of this smelly ooze and thus carry off many spores on their feet and intestinal tract that will begin the next generation of the stinkhorn. The stinkhorn fungi are typically found in (you guessed it) wood mulch.
Photos: J. Ormiston

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Caterpillar Update Day 5

At day 5 the caterpillar has doubled it's length and the tentacles have grown.  The colors are more pronounced and the head is larger and has developed stripes.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Cabbage White Butterflies

Probably the most visible butterfly in the Fox Island Butterfly Garden right now is  the Cabbage White (Pieris rapae rapae).  Familiar as a "Cabbage Butterfly" to anyone who has ever worked a garden in Indiana the host plants of the Cabbage White are the cabbage plant and members of the mustard family including Garlic Mustard.
The Cabbage White is native to the Old World first introduced to North America via Canada in 1860 and moving to the East Coast of the United States by the 1870's.  By 1892 it was common throughout Indiana.
Mating pair of Cabbage Whites
Male Cabbage Whites can be distinguished by a single black spot on their fore-wing, females by two black spots on their forewings.  Both have a pale yellow hind-wing and black tips on the fore-wing.
Photos by J. Ormiston 8-22-14.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Caterpillar Update - Day 2

The caterpillar has grown about 1 mm in length and has also increased in diameter.
The caterpillar's head is now smaller in diameter than it's body. The tentacles still have not formed.
This caterpillar is about 7 days older than the caterpillar that hatched Tuesday.
The football shaped openings on the side of each body segment are called "Spiracles" and are the openings to the respiratory system of the caterpillar. There is a spiracle opening on each side of the body segments of the thorax and abdomen and connect to a web of tracheae that supplies oxygen to the body.
Photos by J. Ormiston

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Caterpillar Egg Update

Yesterday this Monarch Butterfly egg was ready to hatch when photographed in the afternoon.  A friend said it looked like a "Pop Bead".

The bead has popped!
Today the egg has hatched and the caterpillar is busy munching on the milkweed leaf that held the attached egg.  The scale at the top of the picture is graduated in millimeters (25.4mm per inch).
The tentacles have not formed yet on the anterior and posterior of the body and the head is the same width as the body.  I will try to photograph the caterpillar as it grows through the instar stages and post them on this blog.
Photos by J. Ormiston

Oh Deer!! Whitetail Fawns.

One of the most enjoyable things about working at Fox Island County Park is sharing nature with young visitors.  Today some of our young visitors were able to see two White-tailed Deer fawns (Odocoileus virginianus) feeding and romping in the lawn east of the Nature Center. While very aware of the people watching from the front of the Nature Center the nearly full grown fawns seemed to feel safe enough to come out in the open with occasional trips back into the wooded area.
This fawn will soon loose it's spots as fall approaches.  Deer will be feeding heavily right now as they need to add fat for the approaching winter.  White-tailed deer are the most economically important wild mammal in the United States generating billions of dollars annually in hunting dollars.  Whitetail deer were hunted heavily in the mid-1800's and populations decreased to around 1 million nation wide.  Today's numbers are in the estimated range of 25 to 27 million nationally.
White-tailed deer have excellent senses of sight, hearing and smell.  This fawn is licking it's nose to improve it's ability to to smell the observers standing a few yards away. Deer have about 50 times the number of smell receptors that humans have and a wet nose is a more sensitive nose.  Deer also have smell receptors in the roof of their mouth.
When startled White-tails lift their tail and show the "flag" that gives them their name. The hairs also
are fanned out and the tail is moved back and forth to alert other deer to beware.  Many times the only sight you have of a deer is the white tail bobbing through the woods as it departs the area.
The first fawn was soon joined by it's sibling and began running around obviously burning off excess energy before disappearing back into the woods. The mother never came out onto the lawn but rest assured she knew where they were every moment.  Before the kids left the park I was able to give each a color print-out of the fawns they were able watch and enjoy.


Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The beginning of a Monarch

Monarch Butterflies start their journey to adulthood as a tiny egg usually laid by the female on the underside of a milkweed leaf. The football shaped eggs are only slightly larger than a grain of sugar and milky white in appearance. A female lays only one egg per plant and usually on the upper half of the milkweed plant on young leaves.
In 3-5 days,  just before the tiny caterpillar emerges from the egg the egg appears to have a black cap.  This black end of the football is actually the newly formed head of the caterpillar inside the egg case.  In this egg the 3 black fore legs of the caterpillar are visible at the lower edge of the head in the center of the egg. These eggs are beautifully fluted and serrated in contrast to the eggs of other animals that have a very smooth egg case. Why?
This caterpillar was photographed within minutes of emerging from the egg.  The caterpillar immediately begins to eat the egg case and then will begin to eat the tiny hairs on the back side of the leaf in order to get the energy needed to carry on the business of becoming a productive adult.
Photos by Jeff Ormiston.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Giant Swallowtail II

Today another Giant Swallowtail butterfly came to our butterfly bush attracted by the fragrant blossoms.
While slightly less worn than Saturday's Swallowtail it was still showing the signs of a well traveled butterfly carrying on the business of promoting the survival of the species.
The Giant Swallowtail is Indiana's largest swallowtail.
Even though this Common Clearwing (Hummingbird Moth) is only about the size of the Giant Swallowtail forewing it is still attracted to the blossoms of the same butterfly bush.  Clearwing caterpillars feed on hawthorn, viburnum, honeysuckle and mint.

Tagged Monarchs

What we now know about the annual migration of the Monarch Butterfly is made possible, in large part, by the tagging of adult Monarchs and recovery of those tagged adults. Peak Monarch migration at our latitude is early September but I have tagged the adults released this week and used it as an educational experience for visiting kids and adults.
Yesterday morning I released and tagged a male Monarch and today while at the Nature Center wetlands at Fox Island I photographed what I thought was the butterfly I had released a couple hours before but was actually the butterfly released on the previous day.
This young visitor released our second tagged Monarch this morning.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Tree Frog and Water Snake

While out checking milkweeds for Monarch eggs and caterpillars I encountered this Eastern Gray Tree Frog (Hyla versicolor) perched on a large milkweed leaf and blending in nicely using it's green color selection.  With the ability to change colors to blend with it's background this frog spends it's life in trees and bushes above ground coming back to earth only to breed and lay eggs. 

Another unexpected sighting was this Northern Banded Water Snake that was laying a few inches from the walkway of the Fox Island Nature Center side entrance. This non-venomous water snake has traveled several yards away from the nearest pond in search of toads and frogs in the flower bed.  As these snakes grow older they become darkly colored sometimes becoming nearly black.  This 24"snake displays the banding that gives it it's name.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Giant Swallowtail

This Giant Swallowtail Butterfly (Papilio cresphontes) flew through my front yard, paused briefly at my Oak Leaf Hydrangia, and continued on to the Butterfly Bush in my back yard. Giant Swallowtails are one of the three largest butterflies in North America and have a range that includes most of the US. The wing span of a Giant Swallowtail can reach up to 5 1/2".

Also known as "Orange Dog", in Florida, due to the fact that citrus trees are the caterpillar's host plant in that area. In Indiana the host plant is the Common Prickly Ash (Zanthoxylum americanum).
  The butterfly was kind enough to display both sides of it's wing surfaces which also shows how worn and tattered the wings are. Unfortunately this beautiful butterfly is at the end of it's adult stage.