Once upon a time, Wyatt received a little butterfly hatching kit for his birthday. It came with five or six buckeye butterflies, which all hatched and were a lot of fun to see transform from caterpillar to butterfly. When we shared our excitement with our neighbors, they told us they had some monarch butterfly caterpillars in their front yard that we could also "hatch" if we wanted to. We wanted to.
This led to the beginnings of a vision. A grand save the monarch project. A butterfly nursery. We heard about tagging programs that allowed you to track the Monarch's you released on their famously long migrations. But after we hatched two monarch butterflies, the caterpillars disappeared. We didn't see another caterpillar for about two years! We didn't know how long we'd have to wait. Instead, we got to work building Wyatt's butterfly nursery, which then sat empty for months and then years.
But all that changed about a week ago when our neighbor left a jar full of Monarch caterpillars on our front step, and then another and then another. All in all we eventually gathered 27 caterpillars, but there was a mystery: Why were the caterpillars showing up in early January? Normally, we heard, they appeared in mid spring and fall. Our hypothesis: There is a mite that goes by the initials E.O. (look it up for the full latin name). This mite proves fatal to Monarchs and gets transmitted to their babies. One way the mite gets around individual to individual is that it comes of the scales of the wings of butterflies onto leaves of plants where it lands. A good natural defense against this mite is that California milkweed loses its leaves every winter. Milkweed is where Monoarchs lay their eggs. But our neighbors across the street have non-indigenous milkweed in their yard that does not drop its leaves. We believe one or two stray monarchs found our neighbor's milkweed when there weren't many other options around and that's how we ended up with winter babies.
Unfortunately, we had a very cold late January and early February with chilly winds and several nights of frost. It's a glass half full or half empty kind of thing. We ended up being able to release 15 butterflies. Our video celebrates these successes. We hope you like it! But a good number of crystali never hatched, others fell off, and we think a couple of caterpillars escaped our habitat. One interesting thing we noted was that it took much longer than the approximately two week period it normally takes for monarch's to hatch. We think heat, or lack thereof, was a big factor. When after a month of no action, a strong wind ended up causing a few of the crystali to fall to the ground, we moved them inside to a smaller habitat. Inside with the heat, we discovered they hatched within a couple of days. At that point, we brought all the cystili remaining inside and most of them hatched. It seemed as though the development inside the crystili slows down in the cold, but is not necessary hurt by it, as we had a number of butterflies hatch and fly away fine even with a month long period inside the crystalis. But the longer in the crystalis, the more chances extreme cold weather and other conditions will cause a real problem.
In the end we release fifteen monarchs to the world, naming them: Woofie, Billy Joel, Marigold, Lucky, Woodstock, Snoopy, Wild Grandpa, Yo Yo Yo Yo, Frog, Cardinal, Violet, Spike, Apple, Iris, and Petunia Prettypaws Stilton! Good luck babies! Fly and multiply!BLOG COMMENTS POWERED BY DISQUS