Archives for posts with tag: Monarch Caterpillar

Cold, wet days drive Kaye inside. Good thing the garden is planted. But, you have to venture out once in a while to thin seedlings, deal with pests and encounter wildlife. Check out Season 2, Episode 2 of “Late Bloomer,” “Maintaining the Winter Garden.”

Please Like and Share and Comment! Thank you! – Kaye

I have so much to do, I don’t know where to start. I’m getting a little overwhelmed. Spraining the ankle on New Year’s Day didn’t help me get off to the roaring start I’d planned.

I took a cup of tea out to the garden at noon to evaluate and meditate. It’s amazing what happens when you just stop. And observe. I wasn’t sitting for more than a couple of minutes when neighbor C.L. grabbed his cane and rambled over. As he chatted a bit, I spotted a wandering Monarch caterpillar four feet away on the driveway. When they wander away from the milkweed plant, if they are full-size (fifth instar), that means they are looking for a good spot for their chrysalis. I like to keep track of them, so I will know when the butterflies emerge. I moved this one back to the lone milkweed plant 12 feet away, and it got interested in eating again.

I’ve lost a few cats, and the cold and wind has been brutal for them. I’ve had no luck relocating them inside, or outside, to what I consider a good spot for a chrysalis. They have a mind of their own. This one died while shedding its skin to form its chrysalis. I had just watered the carrot barrels right beside it, and it is wet. I hope I did not kill it.

Dead Monarch Caterpilla

Dead Monarch Caterpillar Shedding Skin for Becoming Chrysalis

Today it is 63 degrees. Tomorrow it’s supposed to be 73, and 75 degrees on the weekend. It has been in the 50’s during the day and dipping in the low 40’s at night. With wind. This makes a tough go for Monarch caterpillars. I have chrysalises that are not mature after almost two months!

I sat back down and mused about how fast some veggies grow, while others take much longer. Most of my winter garden was planted early to mid-November. Radishes and lettuce and one barrel of baby finger carrots are mature, while it will be another month or two for kale, cauliflower and cabbage, a couple of weeks more for Swiss Chard.

Little Finger Carrots

Baby Little Finger Organic Carrots

Green Kale

Winter Bor Green Kale

Green Cabbage Seedling

Copenhagen Market Green Organic Cabbage

I could harvest beet tops right now while they are tender, but I’m more interested in the beet root, which will be awhile. It’s so hard to say with the wild fluctuations in weather.

Beet Greens

Beet Tops

I could make a big salad right now of spinach, arugula and red deer tongue lettuce. But, that would clean me out. I have about two big salads worth of greens out there.

Spinach Grown in a Pot

Spinach Leaves

Deer Tongue Lettuce Leaves

Red Deer Tongue Lettuce

So, Monday, I planted more lettuce, this time, organic Romaine. That’s a small row of snap peas behind it.

Freshly Planted Garden Row

Row of Freshly Planted Romaine Lettuce

Nasturtiums have self-seeded through my beds, so I pull them out when they start getting in the way. I opened the driveway gate to drop a few in the green bin, and spotted this tiny, metallic blue beetle on the gate key pad. It looks like a drop of metallic blue paint, no more than 1/8 of an inch across. But, this one had a problem, and was opening the wings over and over to get them all folded back under the blue helmet. A little piece was sticking out. It scurried across a leaf and my hand. Since I’m a beginning gardener, everything is new to me (I had seen one last year), so I assumed it was common. After I shot video and took a few shots, I relocated it to a rose leaf.

Tiny blue beetle with broken wing.

Ladybird Beetle, Halmus chalybeus, family Coccinellidae

I sat back down and drank from my cup. Postponing the inevitable return to my office to work. I have so much to do, I don’t know where to start. So, I sipped a bit longer. Then, I came inside, and sent the beetle photo to Dr. James Hogue, Professor & Manager of Biological Collections at Cal State Northridge, in charge of their 60,000 insect specimen collection. He immediately responded:

“It looks like this is a ladybird beetle called Halmus chalybeus, family Coccinellidae. It was introduced from Australia over 100 years ago for bio-control of scale insects. I had not seen this beetle before, nor do we have any in our collection. If you run across one again, it would be a good catch that I would like for our schools collection.

The hard blue things are its first pair of wings that, in beetles, are modified as covers for the more delicate hind wings that are used for flying. These covers are called elytra.”

WHAT??? IT WAS IN MY HAND!! And I let it go. I ran back outside and searched, but it’s like looking for a needle in a haystack. It was in my hand!! I’m kicking myself. I really missed my calling. I should have been an entomologist, instead of an actress!

Thanks for stopping by! What bugs are you finding in your garden? – Kaye

The sun came out today and it warmed up in the afternoon, so I was keeping an hourly watch on this caterpillar, as another curled up cat, that had been curled up for two days, formed a chrysalis in a couple of hours and I missed it. This one looked pretty much the same as it did for the last couple of cold days. I checked on it about 1PM, and it still had stripes.

Monarch Beginning to Form Chrysalis

Curled up Monarch Caterpillar

I went out for celery and herbs for my soup after 45 minutes, or so, and glanced over and it was mint green and writhing! I ran for my camera.

I missed the part where the green appeared, but the mystery of how it changes shape is now evident. It goes inside this sock and writhes around, rocking back and forth, till it’s in position. An hour later, it looked like this!

New Monarch Chrysalis

Monarch Caterpillar Chrysalis

It’s not all fun and excitement in the garden. With my new fall sprouts come slugs and snails and earwigs chomping on the tender shoots. So, my nightly flashlight prowls have resumed. Squishing all those is not something I look forward to, but, I have to protect my plants, and several seedlings have already been damaged, so squish I must! I’m also using crushed eggshells around them to discourage slugs and snails, as I hear they don’t like to move over the sharp pieces. But, what organic preventative will stop an earwig? Thanks for checking into “Late Bloomer!” – Kaye

It’s been gently raining, on and off, for the better part of three days. The ground is soaked, and so are my cats. I go out several times a day to check on them, and count them. This AM, I found 13 caterpillars, five chrysalises, and one forming a chrysalis. About nine, like this one, are polishing off their last meals.

Monarch Caterpillar in Fifth Instar

Monarch Caterpillar in Fifth Instar Stage Eating Milkweed Leaf

Everything on the milkweed plant is consumed, leaves, flowers, stems, even the outside of the seed pods.

Monarch Caterpillar by Kaye Kittrell

Monarch Caterpillar Eating Tropical MIlkweed Seedpod

This one moved across the garden to a short wire fence where it will likely start to form a chrysalis.

Monarch Caterpillar by Kaye Kittrell

Monarch Caterpillar Hanging from Wire Fence

This is why the caterpillars usually move away from the milkweed plants before forming a chrysalis. There is a danger of getting pooped on! With up to a dozen large cats hovering above, chomping away, you are likely to get pooped on. This chrysalis is covered in rain-melted frass.

Chrysalis Covered in Poop

Monarch Chrysalis Covered in Rain-Melted Frass

I would have been happy to relocate it to the bush, where this one is forming now. You can already see the overall greenish cast. At this stage, there is still a bit of movement in the head and front legs.

Monarch Caterpillar First Stage Chrysalis

Monarch Caterpillar Forming Chrysalis

Tomorrow, it will be solid milky green, like this one, but lighter. It takes a couple of days to become this translucent green. I was amazed to see the cats (there are two in this bush) attach to one single thick strand of grass.

Monarch Chrysalis in Grass

Monarch Chrysalis in Mexican Feather Grass

It’s taking a long time for the butterflies to emerge from the older chrysalises. I’m sure they are waiting for a sunny, dry day to emerge. It’s hard enough for those wings to dry on a sunny day! And they can’t fly away from danger till the wings are dry. I haven’t seen a Monarch butterfly since the first one hatched and flew away. I feel sure when these small ones complete their stages, that will be it till next year.

Fourth Instar Monarch Caterpillar

Monarch Caterpillar Third Instar

I hope so, because most of the milkweed is bare stalks by now. Thanks for checking in. Are you planting milkweed for next season? – Kaye

Today was the day! I checked on my cocoon early, as it was quite dark yesterday. I took this photo about an hour before she emerged.


Monarch Cocoon in Final Stage

You can see where the dark ring top left became a row of holes, presumably for ventilation, as it does not function as an exit zipper. The butterfly rips open the bottom. The cocoon is molded by the shape of the folded wings. In the final stage, the cocoon wall is virtually transparent, and the polka dots and patterned wings can be plainly seen. Mark and Andy dropped by and as we sat and talked, a beautiful female emerged.


Female Monarch Butterfly Just After Emerging from Cocoon

I had taped cheesecloth below the cocoon for the butterfly to grasp, however, she went up (they go forward I discovered, not back), and slipped and fell! Her damp wings were no help. She struggled to balance, and I let her walk onto my hand. I named her Celeste.

Celeste was quite friendly, and climbed on Mark’s beard and walked across Andy’s hands.


Monarch Butterfly on Andy’s Hand

This was a very special gift for Thanksgiving and I am grateful for Mother Nature and all of her exquisite creatures. The detail in this one butterfly is a marvel.


Female Monarch Butterfly Poses for the Camera


Female Monarch Spreading Wings for First Time

After my first humble attempt at growing food this year, I am especially grateful for our farmers and food providers all over the world. It’s a 24/7 job to grow food, for if you are not in the fields, you are planning, borrowing money from the bank, grinding corn, processing pigs and chickens. There is always something you have to do, and simply growing food in a small front yard has made me ever more appreciative of all the care that goes into food production. Thank you, Nature. Thank you, Farmers. I hope you had a blessed day of thanksgiving. – Kaye

After yesterday’s post, I went out to clean the remaining egg off the driveway, or, I tried. I was using the “jet” setting on my hose sprayer and blasting one bad spot. I looked ahead about ten feet from me and saw something dangling to a 20″ plastic pot of a flowering bush. I figured a leaf had gotten caught in one of the million spider webs we have all over the garden. I gave it a good direct blast of water, and it wildly flopped back and forth, but, didn’t release. I went in for a closer look.


Monarch Caterpillar Beginning Metamorphosis

There was a very wet caterpillar dangling from the 1/8″ edge (so sharp, I often fear I am going to cut my hand when I try to move the pot). It survived the assault of water, and began to curl back up. To my utter amazement, I discovered an intact cocoon six inches away! How do they know?


Monarch Cocoon Dripping with Water

The caterpillars are not in the same stage, yet, they left the milkweed plant, and crossed either just the driveway, or the sidewalk and driveway to reach this pot. It seems if they discovered it together, it would make sense they found it, however, if they left the milkweed plant at different times, how did the second one know where to find this pot? My car is in and out of the driveway every day. Did they make their move at night? I have to believe these are very intelligent creatures.

There is a finely woven web where they attach their back anchor feet to the edge, so, they can withstand wind and rain. This is not a terribly protected spot. Rain will definitely hit them, but they chose the side of the pot closest to another big clay pot (with no overhanging edge) that might protect from wind and offer some reflective warmth.

Monarch Caterpillar Starting Metamorphosis

Monarch Caterpillar Curling Up

Hard to see, but there is a fine web of a few strands of silk spun from the third from top anchor feet.

Monarch Caterpillar Spinning Web

Monarch Caterpillar Spinning Web, Insert

I will be watching this process closely and hope I get to see the emergence of the butterfly. Loree Bryer told me to attach some cloth near the cocoon, as the butterfly needs something to grasp while their wings unfold and dry. Otherwise, they could fall to the ground right from the cocoon. So I will do that. And I will be most curious to see if a third caterpillar finds its way to the pot!


Monarch Cocoon with Water Droplets

Nature is a mystery and a wonder! And humans are entrusted to protect and defend it. Thanks for reading! – Kaye

I had been alerted that rain was coming this weekend, and I knew I had to get a fresh layer of alfalfa down on my hard-baked clay, otherwise, every trip into the garden would result in mud-caked shoes. So, this morning, I spread it out. Rain was coming down gently on my back. I had my office window open (that’s Linden sitting in the window watching me) and Puccini wafting out to inspire me to work in the sprinkling rain.


Alfalfa Spread on Grassless Lawn

Next, I popped in a couple of red Cyclamen in the far back corner to cheer me up. There’s too much shade for edibles. In front of the window sits my new birdbath. Not one bird has visited it, yet. The “rain” stopped fairly quickly, but not before all the leaves got a few drops.


Raindrops on Roses

This is the second light sprinkle since the mid-April downpour. I wish it could have lasted longer. Now that I pulled out the tomato vines that enshrouded my little orange tree, it is coming to life with a hundred blooms!


Valencia Orange Blossoms

And I discovered a potato popping up under my birch trees! I had dumped the dirt from the big pot there after pulling out my potato vines. Because the soil back there is as hard as a rock and choked with birch roots, I am mounding it up as it grows. I will be very curious to see if I get potatoes.


Potato Plant

Next, I checked in with my Monarch caterpillars. These three fat ones were chomping away on perhaps their last meal before they head off to build a cocoon.

The longer antennae are on the head, and they bob back and forth as they eat. The caterpillars anchor at the top of the leaf near the stem, grasping onto the vein in the leaf and eat from the tip up the leaf, backing up as they go. They are always hanging upside down, so it’s hard to get a good look at the head. When I do get my camera close enough for them to see it, they sense danger and freeze, and hope their big, beautiful, yellow and black striped bodies won’t be noticeable. Ha! That’s Pavarotti singing “Nessun Dorma” (along with the sound of a jet plane) in the background. With big dumps of frass (insect poop) like these, I know these caterpillars are about ready to morph.

Frass (Insect Poop)

Monarch Caterpillar Frass

Thanks for stopping by! – Kaye

Today, October 22nd, is the 22nd birthday of my son, Walker. He’s a senior at Stanford, and I’d hoped to be up there, but the life of a college athlete is very busy, and he didn’t think he would even have time to dine with me. So, I am not going to see him in person on this special day, a day that only happens once in a lifetime.


Walker & Kaye, at the Getty Center 2012

My birthday is on Valentine’s Day, February 14th, and I remember well my 14th birthday. I was learning to sew in 4-H and made a heart shaped (top and bottom) apron out of red-checked cotton, and trimmed it with red rick-rack. I also baked a heart-shaped cake, and my mother got the town paper to photograph me for the weekly paper. I have that article in one of the many scrapbooks my mother made me.

Anyway, after a long day in the garden yesterday, I wasn’t too energetic today and felt my energy was supposed to be in Palo Alto, not Los Angeles, so I didn’t get off to a great start. In the afternoon, I forced myself to go out and check on caterpillar C (A & B have left the building, ha), and spent an hour trying to relocate him or her to a safe place for cocoon-building. As it was exploring what I considered to be the Ritz Carlton for Monarch cocoons (underneath the overhang of my pop-out kitchen window), it FELL about four feet into a bucket of bamboo sticks! I gasped and picked it up by the piece of straw it was grasping. Talk about grasping for straws!


Monarch Caterpillar 5th Instar Stage Grasping Straw

Stunned, it lay in my hand for a couple of minutes. I decided that I was violating the “Prime Directive” (any “Star Trek” fans out there?) and I put it back on the milkweed bush. When I looked again 20 minutes later, it was nowhere to be found. Luckily, I have another caterpillar coming along.


Monarch Caterpillar 4th Instar Stage

And I found several eggs.


Monarch Egg

And fluttering around my head was a female Monarch butterfly feasting on the pollen of the Mexican Sunflower. It’s amazing how the stripes on the caterpillar turn into polka dots!


Female Monarch Butterfly on Mexican Sunflower

I have limited space in my garden. Some parts gets more sun than others. Some soil is more amended, but most of it is compacted clay. So, when I buy new plants, it takes me awhile to figure out where to put them. Almost every spot that gets maximum sun will be used to plant edibles. Today, I made a hard choice. I had bought two California native blueberry bushes from Grow Native Nursery last week, but hadn’t figured out where to plant them. I kind of wanted to keep them together. They grow in light shade, which is a plus, but, I just couldn’t figure it out, till it hit me to turn my Flower Island (see My Flower Island episode of Late Bloomer) into a California Native plot. I just planted two Asclepias speciosa milkweed in there yesterday, and after my caterpillar adventure, I planted three Phyda nodiflora Frogfruit ground cover there. Then, it hit me. I’m over roses.

I had an Iceberg Rose bush out there that was high maintenance and rarely bloomed, got lots of rust, and of course every time you tend to it, you somehow get pricked by a thorn. I’m over it. I dug up that rose bush, and planted two Vaccinium “Indians Wanderer” California native blueberries under the newly pruned Princess flower bush, which I trimmed to grow up more like a tree than a sprawling bush, giving more light underneath.

Vaccinium - California Native Blueberry

Vaccinium “Indians Wanderer” California Native Blueberry

Well, it’s technically not a native garden, yet. That’s an African daisy bottom left, and Mexican feather grass top left, which I happen to love, but the other seven plants are natives. And they all will bloom and attract bees and butterflies.


California Native Garden

So the day wasn’t a complete wash. And I am Skyping my son tonight! 🙂 Thanks for stopping by! – Kaye

Monarch caterpillars, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways:

You are gentle, and stunningly beautiful;

Monarch Caterpillar

Monarch Caterpillar

You don’t mind sharing a milkweed branch with a sibling;

Monarch Caterpillars on Tropical Milkweed

You can hang upside down, while shedding your skin;

Monarch Caterpillar Shedding Skin

Monarch Caterpillar Shedding Skin

(See those smaller feet it has just shed? This rather blows my mind.)

You are big! Your color is bold and intricate, and you turn into the most beautiful butterflies.

Monarch Caterpillar with Ruler

Monarch Caterpillar with Ruler

You are welcome in my garden any day, along with your adult self, and I will happily provide all the milkweed you can eat. Thanks for stopping by my garden! – Kaye

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