Update on my experiences

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  • #12952

    Swansong
    Participant

    Hi, been a while since I’ve been in. I enjoyed your story Jacqui, and had to laugh at your ‘pillar doing the disappearing act. Arn’t they hard cases! Ha Ha…they really tickle my fancy when they try the escaping trick…. and boy they can be hard to find. We now know to look under chairs tables curtains and anything else they can scarper to.

    I’ll share my latest laugh. I brought home some pillars from my mums place in town about 3 weeks ago and I like to transport them on a plant in a pot as this is the least stressful. As usual, I did a roll call before the wee journey. When I got home I forgot how many there were supposed to be, but I was 90% sure that one had gone walk about. I looked and looked and looked (including in the car) to no avail so I thought …ah well…. then about a week ago my hubby was cleaning the car out and guess what…. one crysalis hooked onto the back part of the passenger seat….if you please!!! ha ha. Its now been transfered to inside along with other crysallis’. :-)

    Soooo… we had our 1st hatching on 7/12/07 and all of our stock has come from my Mums place in town, being transferred when we deem they are big enough to hive off so they dont bone out my plants. So far we have had 27 hatch. Being rural and out in the open, we dont usually see monarchs until well into January. This gives me a good head start on getting the plants up to speed.

    I have about 30 plants of various sizes but none really bushy yet. All in pots except one. All the plants are off seed from a last years plant. As we can have some reasonably stiff frosts in my area (lower north island) it is sometimes a challenge to keep last years plants alive, which was certainly the case this year. I’ve found they dont like being indoors either and can get diseases and things like aphids if you dont watch it. The survival rate I found, is better outside, if you are vigilant against frosts. Even then I’ve lost at least a 3rd of my pot plants. I would love to know if my plants are just the common old milkweed or what. Are there many different types/species of milkweeds and if so is there somewhere like a good website where I can find out about them as I would like to learn more on this?

    What I’m up to now is, protecting my plants from the mumma butterfly that is present on the scene from about a week ago (not sure if she is from my Mums stock or an "outsider") Unfortunately I have to squish the eggs until such time as the plants can sport a good population, with the goal of ending up with nice fat ‘pillars a bit later on in the season. I have a tip for those who are just starting out. Its a good idea not to let the butterfly lay eggs galore, when your plant/s cant support the caterpillars that will surely turn into munching machines. If its planted then you will surely need to cover it with netting or something. The trick is to know how much your caterpillars will typically need. It is hard for me to be able to give an idea of what that is, size wise, coz some plants are more dense with foliage than others, but if you dont keep the population down,(and its far easier to squish an egg than a wee caterpillar) essentially what you will end up with is a whole lot of starving caterpillars and that is VERY devastating to see. :-(. Better to have a few fat healthy ones than a whole lotta skinny 1/2 dead ones. I’ve seen this happen in gardening sections in supermarkets and the like and the staff haven’t got a clue. We have rescued ‘pillars in this state more than once and I hate it.

    I love all stages right to the butterfly stage but I think I love the ‘pillars the most. They can be soooo naughty and they have their own personalities I reckon…. like once they get it into their heads they wanna head off in a certain direction…its in that direction they will go!. Ive had I think 30 inside at one time and that many can be a handful but they all settle down at night like good children : ) I like to have a big box and put my pot plants in this, where all the poos go into the box and all is good. I swap out the plants as needed and have other things in the box like twigs which make for a good climbing apparatus. I also have an old dried piece of gypsophila (giant) and they have really "hammered" that over the last few years to the point where it is getting very 2nd hand. I’m growing some this year so I can have more of it because I’ve found they really seem to love hanging off it in the hockey-stick stage, and they seem to prefer it 9 times out of 10 to anything else.

    Before I release butterflies, if I have time, they have to do one thing for me… that is climb up my face. I love the feel of their little claws when they get to my hair. It is really nice to see them fly off free and in the sunshine.

    Cheers,

    Swansong.

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  • #16567

    Swansong
    Participant

    “you look at the egg with its little lines”

    Wow! either your son has extraordinary vision or he got a head start on a little magnifying glass OR both ha ha! Good on him.

    Hey I have just noticed in the last few days that the monarchs love (BIG TIME) my thornless blackberry flowers. They are really thrashing it for the pollen. It has white flowers. I’ve had at least 4 VERY fiesty butterflies around consistently for the last week or so, although today is heavily overcast and quite cool so they are hiding out somewherez.

    Ive covered in an area with nets for my swanplants in pots, with plenty of room for growth. Its about 12 foot long by 3 feet wide by 5ft6″ high. So far they haven’t found a way in so I must be doing something right :).

    Good indeed that youre taking time out. We’ve just finished a major all out effort getting our wood in for winter and are looking forward to just putting our feet up too for a bit.

    I’ll catch up after new year sometime.

    Cheers,
    Swansong.

    #16566

    Jacqui
    Moderator

    They’re amazing aren’t they – in all stages. I will never forget my little boy (when he was about 7 or 8) being interviewed on TV, and the interviewer asked him why he was interested in Monarchs and he said (I can remember it clearly, almost verbatim) “Well, they’re quite beautiful in all their stages, you look at the egg with its little lines, and the caterpillar…” and so he went on. He fuelled my passion that day!

    I’m having a very relaxing time, thanks Swansong, love this weather, and delighted in Mmonarchs chasing around the garden yesterday.

    Jacqui

    #16564

    Swansong
    Participant

    Thanks Jacqui for the Link. Nice photos and indeed they are beautiful.. I reckon I have seen them. Both my Mum and my Hubby knew about them, so it looks like I’m dragging the chain a bit eh.

    Hope you find time to have a nice break Jacqui, so you can really enjoy and ponder on the little wee things that sometimes escape us in this busy life, like those little emerging pillars. I remember I wanted to see if they had stripes when they 1st emerge and from my observations with my very ordinary magnifing glass, they dont, but have a wee dark head. Also their little egg casing is sort of bullet shaped with fine little vertical lines coming from the central pointed top.

    All the best,
    Swansong

    #16563

    Jacqui
    Moderator

    Hi Swansong

    Happy Christmas.

    Admirals are beautiful. If you go to the main page and type “Admiral” into the search box, you will see lots of photographs of them.

    Or you can clik on this link:

    https://www.monarch.org.nz/search/?query=admiral

    Hope you’ve had a happy day. I have… but I’m going to bed now!

    Jacqui

    #16562

    Swansong
    Participant

    Hi Jacqui,

    Thanks for those pdfs, havent checked them yet as I came here strasight after downloading.

    “I have a surprise for you! I have never ever seen a caterpillar shedding its skin”

    Jacqui thats terrible!!! nah just kidding… : ) … but when you do have the time you will really appreciate it. There really is soooo much going on through all the stages, but you will know that better than i no doubt.

    Yes I forgot to mention that I was wrong once and that its quite on the cards I could be wrong again about the number of moults. Thanks for the info on this and setting me straight : ) . It is amazing to watch them moult. Generally before the last moult (I think) you will see a ‘pillar stay in one place really “wound down” (not good to move them at this point)…and not eating for at least a day and sometimes even 2. They have a very yellow face when they 1st shed that skin and are quite recognizable, by their vibrant colour as well, and bent antenae. They also leave the skin behind on the leaf or where-ever, which can incidentally be away from the plant, which sometimes they eat. Me thinks its high time I got a digital cam so I can upload some piks…. somtime maybe…

    Admirals? I have to confess my terrible ignorance! I don’t even know what they look like and never even heard of them till I joined this forum. I don’t know a lot about butterflies in general and tend to be a person that really goes for my favourite things maybe to the detriment of other things. :/. I’m like that with birds too. Like I ABSOLUTELY luurrrrrrv Kingfishers (NZ) and prefer to learn about them more than other birds, but i digress…. I have seen the odd unusual coloured butterfly passing by and it would be good to recognize what they are. If you like, and have, or more likely when u get time, feel free to post up a link so I could see what they look like.

    Cheers,
    Swansong.

    #16561

    Jacqui
    Moderator

    Hi again

    I have a surprise for you! I have never ever seen a caterpillar shedding its skin — most probably because I’m too darned busy and rushing around like a headless chicken. I need someone to tell me to stop and watch!

    But according to my friends in America, a Monarch goes through five instars (the period between moults), so that means they shed their skin – or moult – FOUR times.

    I’m told that the approximate length of body at each stage is:

    1st instar, 2-6mm
    2nd instar, 6-9mm
    3rd instar, 10-14mm
    4th instar, 13-25mm
    5th instar, 25-45mm

    I guess I’ll see it happen one day.

    Just had a beautiful Monarch emerge today, and qutie a few caterpillars in my greenhouse now, which has just had a good clean out. I hope that they will start to thrive again. I love having lots of Monarchs!

    Do you have Admirals where you are?

    Jacqui

    #16560

    Swansong
    Participant

    Hi Jacqui, good to hear from you too…. and thanks so much for your helpful comments on the plant types. I will send you an email when I’ve put my post up or later this evening when I’ll have more free time.

    Ooooo yeah! I DO get a lot of pleasure out of the pillars, well not only me but Hubby too … in fact for some reason the thought of any other caterpillar … left to its own devices, inside all night, somehow is NOT appealing and is likely to give me the woolies… but Monarchs…no probs at all, and the thought has never even crossed my mind about … yukk a caterpillar crawling on my carpet ….. Heh, oh yes they are very naughty when they eat 1/2 the leaf, and especially when you’re hard-up for tucker. In fact what I do is actually feed it back to them, sometimes its a goer and sometimes not, depending on how slick you are. Sometimes you can fool em and sometimes they wont have a bar of it. No problems though if theres nothing else, they will welcome the scraps with open claws : ) . Anywayz I’ve been guilty of putting leaves in a tiny wee bottle of water with the top plugged, and they’ll stay fresh for ages, like days. I put little baby ‘pillars on them and at least they get eaten. Full of number eight wire tricks eh! It’s all good. Hey, have you ever noticed that some ‘pillars are really tidy eaters and methodical…. like they will neatly put a wee nick on the underside of a leaf where it joins onto the stem. Then they will position themselves just so, then proceed to “polish it off”. Amazing!

    This morning I had to assist one hatching. Now this is dicey at best, but I had no choice so out with the tweezers to pull off part of the shell that was stuck to one side of the body not releasing the wings on that side, and do it as quickly as I could but as extremely gently as I could, simultaneously ( 8 – O) . Ive named the butterfly tripod. He ( ? ) only has 3 legs but they are all strong and extremely surprisingly the wings pretty much perfectly filled out in 10 minutes or so. Since I could see good progress I just hung him on my finger till the wings were all out as the less disturbance the better….so I’m stoked that this butterfly will be all good to go off soon.

    “He’s hanging on the front of a chest of drawers in my guest bedroom”
    : ) : ) : ) …what more can I say…. butterflies will be butterflies…no hang on a minute, that should be ‘pillars will be ‘pillars

    I hate squishing the eggs too and hopefully that situation will be rectified VERY SOON where I wont have to but up to now I take the lesser of 2 evils as I cant bear to kill the caterpillars no matter what size. Last season I watched one hatch from an egg via magnifying glass. I have also discovered that they shed their skins 3 times not 2 as I thought. I have been doing a lot of thinking about how i will be setting up my nets and the most efficient way to do it for my situation. Hopefully when this is done I will be able to control mumma butterfly so she wont be able to lay anywhere near the eggs that she has been. However they can be pretty determined and as mum told me this morning that her mumma had been “populating” her curtain net.

    All the best,
    Swansong.

    #16559

    Jacqui
    Moderator

    Hi Swansong,

    Lovely to hear from you again! You do have fun with your caterpillars, eh.

    There are about 100 different varieties of milkweed – but I think there are only about ten in NZ. They are all on a poster which I put together a few years back for the Trust – I could email you a copy if you like. One I know is on the noxious pests list, that’s butterfly weed. The most common are the various species of Gomphocarpus (e.g. swan plant) of which there are about nine, and then all the Asclepias (from America), the most common being the Tropical Milkweeds, Silky Scarlet and Silky Gold being the two different colourways.

    Is that confusing?

    We have seeds of the Red and the Gold, and the Giant Swan Plant for sale – $5/packet.
    The Giant is a great plant, as it lasts much longer than the ordinary swan plant.

    I have been told that a caterpillar will eat 18 leves, but then they are such naughty things, they usually eat the top half of a leaf, and discard the bottom half! No wonder that the Americans put their caterpillars into plastic containers, and give them fresh food every day. I can just hear the people saying “You eat up all your greens, or you don’t get any dessert!”, haha.

    We found that caterpillar tonight – except he isn’t any more, he’s a chrysalis. He’s hanging on the front of a chest of drawers in my guest bedroom. Well, that’s that mystery solved!

    I can’t bear to squish eggs. I prefer to put nets over my plants and let Mrs Monarch go elsewhere to lay. There will always be someone somewhere who has plants and no butterflies/caterpillars.

    Swansong, if you’d like the aphids handout, send me an email and I’ll send you a pdf file – lots of great tips about countering the little blighters. jacqui@monarch.org.nz

    Well, good to hear from you. Time I went to bed!

    Jacqui

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