Thursday, May 1, 2014

My journey with the monarchs: No. 3

Before we go on, remember how I said I might forget something?
Yep, forgot something really important about the milkweed last week.

Have you have ever broken a leaf off of a milkweed plant and seen a milky white substance 
 ooze from where it had been attached? It's a latex that contains alkaloids and other complexes
including cardenolides. It's a form of steroid (and cardiac arrester) and it IS what makes the caterpillar
and the monarch butterfly poisonous to their predators. The fact that they have the coloring they do in the larval stage and as a butterfly is so that they warn their predators that they will not taste very good. You should not put this plant where pets might eat it as it would make them sick or worse. And you should always take care not to get the latex on your skin and definitely not in your eyes. I'm constantly washing my hands after handling the plant and go through a lot of hand soap in my house! And, when you purchase your milkweed, you need to make sure that it has not been sprayed with pesticide! And for the record, I thought I should add that milkweed is NOT a weed, but a perennial herb.

Mammas got eggs:

A female monarch can lay about 300-400 eggs in her lifetime. She will arch her abdomen under a leaf with her wings closed and lay one egg per leaf, usually. I have even  found eggs laid on top of leaves and on the flower buds. 

She will taste plants with her feet in order to choose to correct plant to lay her eggs on, which is determined by certain taste chemicals in the plants.

The egg weighs about .00046 grams and they are tiny, only about the size of a pinhead (1.2mm high and .9mm wide). They're cream colored and oval shaped kind of like a football and have vertical ridges. Once mamma lays the eggs, it will take between 3-5 days to hatch, sometimes longer if the weather is cooler. My first batch this season took nearly 7 days.

In the photo below, you can see there is more than one egg. Either another female came by or the same one came back around after laying eggs on other leaves. If milkweed is hard to find they will do what is called "egg stacking" where they lay multiples on one leaf. But typically she will only lay one per leaf and there is a very good reason for that.

Same leaf, four days later . . . 

Below, you can if you look closely, see the ridges in the egg and that it's becoming slightly translucent. You can see black at the top of the egg which is the caterpillars head and two black dots below that which are tentacle buds. These eggs are almost ready to hatch . . . which brings me to the reason a monarch mamma will try to lay only one egg per leaf. Once the caterpillar hatches it will immediately eat it's own egg casing (chorion) and if the others haven't hatched yet, it's quite possible that they will eat the other eggs. Yes, they can be cannibalistic. And much to my horror I watched a larger caterpillar grab a 1st instar cat  right off of a flower bud and eat it!!

And here it is my friends, a newly hatched (could even be a day old) monarch caterpillar on my fingertip. Isn't it just so cute! They are so very delicate, and I don't recommend holding one at this stage, but I wanted to be able to show you how very tiny they are. Look at your fingertip and imagine how small this really is, about 2mm. At this stage it is now called a larva (or caterpillar) and is in its 1st instar or first stage of 5 in its life as a larva. Since a caterpillars skeleton is on the outside of its body and will need to shed its skin in order to keep growing. During the 1st instar it will be 2-6 mm in length and the front tentacles are only small bumps.

You'll notice it doesn't have any stripes yet and is almost translucent with a greenish-gray coloring...that's hard to see here. Once it eats a certain amount of milkweed it will begin to get it's coloring and stripes.

Here he is a little bigger, still translucent and no distinct color pattern yet - still a 1st instar. If you have eggs and noticed that they've hatched but can't find them, chances are they are hiding in between some of that new green growth at the top of the plant...they are very good at hiding!

Next up we'll be watching them get bigger and bigger and bigger  . . . after hatching, they grow
nearly 3000 times their original size!! Let me just say, by the time they get to the 5th instar, they are
a full fledged eating machine, which makes them pooping machines! And since I rear mine inside,
it makes for a lot of clean up duty right before they pupate! They are kind of like babies, except that
they never sleep, lol.

If you missed the beginning of the series, you can find it here.

Until next time,
Love, Kim

P.S - I've been getting random failure notices when I leave comments on some of your blogs, but when
I go and look, my comments are there. And I have noticed some comments on my blog whereI never
received my email notifications. So, make sure you check your blog for comments in case you just rely
on email. I know others who have had the same issue lately, not sure what the deal is?


Anonymous said...

Very interesting facts about the milkweed plant and the monarch butterfly! You have some awesome photos…Ive never seen a cat so tiny on your finger:)

carol l mckenna said...

Wonderful photography and so informative about the Monarch butterflies who need saving ~ xoxo

artmusedog and carol (A Creative Harbor)

Kimberly Vensel said...

I am really enjoying this series! We love raising Monarchs and even though we have raised them for several years, I am still learning from your posts! So, thank you! And I must say I am a bit jealous of the fact that you got a photo of a butterfly laying her eggs. That is one I have yet to capture.

Tamar SB said...

Wow - I just learned SO much and the pictures are amazing!!

Kim Cunningham said...

Man, you are so knowledgeable about Monarchs! It's like a master's class. Wish we lived nearby for Science with Mrs. Stevens Day! Oh and my moth finally died. I guess he just was in there too long and something wasn't working. He stopped wiggling last week. :( We gave it a good college try!

Jill Foley said...

Oh my goodness...this is amazing. I'm going to read this series to my girls today as our science lesson. I love monarchs and haven't seen any since we moved to the pnw almost 5 years ago.... : (

TesoriTrovati said...

How intricate this dance of life! I am amazed at the diminutive size of that little larva. Grow little calerpitter, grow! (That is how my daughter used to say it!). Thank you for letting us into their world. Fascinating! Enjoy the day! Erin

Kelly Kardos said...

WOWIE!!! I get to live vicariously through you Kim! Although i have some beautiful milkweed that I kept to plant elsewhere. I'm only seen two Monarchs since March-Im sure they are scarce right now soI don't expect cats before I replant the weed. That little one on your finger is SO amazing.

Cathy H. said...

Kim, this is such a fascinating series! You've shown me things I've never seen! I'm with my grandson today who loves monarchs. He really likes your pictures, especially the caterpillar. He just found a large caterpillar today on his club house. So seeing your pictures was so exciting!

Anonymous said...

This is so informational! Now I know to check the back of my plants leaves so see if I have some pretty little creatures evolving on them!

Sarah Huizenga said...

I love all the research and information you share on Monarchs. I learned so much from reading your posts.

Kathy McB said...

Oh my, that fingertip photo is absolutely breathtaking!

Sharon said...

That little guy on your finger -- that's amazing! I love your passion for the milkweed and the caterpillar. That sounds like the title of a book. Maybe you should write one? Illustrated by your beautiful photography, of course!

tiarastantrums said...

loved reading this! I can't wait to search for the eggs this year!! Still much too cold around these parts

Buckeroomama said...

First off, wonderful captures! Beyond that, though, I thoroughly enjoyed reading about these little critters. Such fascinating facts. I've bookmarked this for my kids to read when they come home from school later. :)

June Caedmon said...

Kim, I'm so excited about this series. Thank you for sharing your knowledge and beautiful photography with us - I know how long these posts take to research, and write! Truly appreciated - I'm sharing them with my mom and she is just delighted!

Liz said...

Well, I've definitely learned something tonight! I had no idea about the Milkweed and didn't know that Monarchs were poisonous.

Those little caterpillars are so darling.

Dotti said...

I knew butterflies are beautiful but I never realized what a comlex set of actions it takes to get them here. Good luck with you 'crop' this year, Kim!

Connie Smiley said...

This is such an interesting series, Kim! It's written so clearly, and illustrated so beautifully with your photos.
Thank you for all the good information.

Jann Olson said...

So many interesting facts about the Milkweed and the Monarch. Love it! Thanks for sharing with SYC. Happy to be a new follower.

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