Sunday, November 22, 2009

Life Goes On...

I did a blog awhile back about Monarch Butterflies and the Milkweed plant...which is the staple of their diet. I purchased the plant at a local nursery last Spring... and I was delighted that there were already a few caterpillars chomping away at the plant. Truly amazing to watch as they double, and then triple in size over a period of only about 10-14 days. I was a little disappointed that all but one had crawled off to the woods to go through the chrysalis phase...but I happily documented the progress of that one who chose the eave of my house. Again...I was disappointed to find that one morning while I slept... the new butterfly had flown away. That's nature I guess... there is always next spring!

In early October I noticed a monarch butterfly hovering around the now huge milkweed plant. I was on the phone chatting away...and chasing a butterfly around the plant with camera in hand. I just wanted a picture of it on one of the flowers...with it's wings open and to be honest I wasn't even that determined to get the shot. It wasn't until later that evening that I justrealized what I had captured. She wasn't merely just hovering around the plant...she was laying eggs.

I am certain that bugs do not think...but if she were...I imagine it would have been something like 'gee lady...could I get a little privacy please?' Had I known what she was doing, I probably would have left her alone. I wasn't even aware that they did this in October...I assumed the warm months. But I have since learned that there is 1st, 2nd, 3rd and fourth generation Monarch Butterflies...1-3 eat, lay eggs, and die during the summer. October is the fourth generation. It MIGRATES south and lives 4-5 months in Mexico or Southern California..hibernates...reawakens, becomes active, finds a mate, begins the flight northward and lay their eggs...and finally die.

About 2 weeks later...we noticed caterpillars chomping on the plant. At first you can barely even see these had probably been eating for a couple of days.

This is just part of our milkweed was tiny when we bought it...but is pretty big now. There are many different varieties...this one is common milkweed and is native to Mexico.
They are cheap, very hearty plants that require very little attention or care... and will come back bigger and stronger every year. Unlike last spring... more than just a "few" caterpillars came in the Fall. We lost count at 120. So...I probably should get more plants next spring.

As the leaves disappeared...the caterpillars became more desperate and surprisingly aggressive. They began to fight over the leaves and flowers.

This is what was left of the plant. Some of the Caterpillars were still very small. I assume they crawled off in search of more Milkweed.

Notice the droppings around the Caterpillar. I assumed that it was poop. I was they outgrow and shed their skin. Which by the way... they eat.

I was delighted to find that quite a few of them had chosen my house, porch and the plant itself to go through their change from caterpillar to chrysalis and ultimately...Butterfly!

Next they spin sort of a web and hang from it. Their bodies hang in sort of a C shape. They wiggle and jiggle until they are covered by the cocoon.

I wonder why I didn't enjoy science back in high school? Well...I guess that is a thought to ponder?
The Chrysalis itself is quite is almost like it is outlined with Gold Leaf

Each day I could visually see the changes...the chrysalis appeared to change colors...I could almost see the butterfly forming. was quite a bit ahead of the rest. Sadly we found her floating in a bucket on my back porch.

I continued to watch the others with great hope of capturing the escape and first flight....

About five days into the process our weather changed. A cold front came...which lowered our temps from the 70's to the 40's. I wanted to bring a few of them inside...but my husband said I shouldn't."They may make it and if they don' is just the way of nature" I'm not exactly certain as why I listened? Nut I did. As someone who lives in the country...I am aware that sometimes nature is cruel...and it is that way for a purpose. There is a reason a mother bird pushes baby bird out of the nest before it is ready to fly. There is a reason why a mother pig will push her deformed piglet away...refusing to allow it to nurse. But in this case...would it have hurt anything to intervene?

Our weather improved and the temperature returned to the 70's. I continued to watch them with hope. But two weeks passed and I realized that it just wasn't going to happen.

I couldn't help but feel just a little heart broken. That's nature I guess. Life is full of disappointments but it really does go on. There is always next Spring!

"Let us permit nature to have her way. She understands her business better than we do."
~Michel de Montaigne

Check out what happened the very next day!
Miracles Do Happen
--a surprise ending to my photo journal. 4th generation Monarch Butterflies in my back yard!

When they first can barely even see these had been eating for a few days.

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