Thursday, April 19, 2012

Butterfly Tales 2012

04/19/2012: Yippee!! Some of the first milkweed of the season poking its head through the ground. It's a bit earlier than usual since we had such a mild winter. I look forward to this time of year so much! I plan on doing another presentation on raising butterflies at the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge on August 22, 2012. I hope to have all stages of development with me. Last year was so much fun! I was told that my presentation got the highest number of visitors out of all the open houses last year.

Milkweed is the only thing that the monarch caterpillar can eat. The female seeks out milkweed to lay her eggs. The eggs then hatch and the caterpillars feed on it until they are ready to transform into a chrysalis. It takes 3-6 days for the egg to hatch, 7 to 10 days for the caterpillar to get to full size, and another 7-10 days for it to form into a full grown butterfly inside of the chrysalis.

05/04/2012: I saw my first Monarch of the season on May 3rd and she was laying eggs. Unheard of for them to be in the area this early! I went out on the 4th and there was another one laying eggs but my dog scared her off. I began gathering eggs by digging up some of the tiny milkweed plants and putting them in a pot. I counted 22 eggs on these 6 plants and I have another larger plant that I uprooted with 4 more eggs on it for a total of 26 eggs. I'm not even close to being done gathering this first batch of eggs! These eggs will begin to hatch in 3-6 days. They hatch and then they begin to eat the milkweed leaves that they hatch on. As they grow they eat faster and faster!
Fact: Each female can lay 100 or more eggs at a time!
05/06/2012: I have a grand total of 47 eggs to start off the season! I realized that I haven't ever really posted a photo of where I keep the eggs and caterpillars while I'm raising them! Below is a photo of one of my aquariums that I use. I have around 10 or so aquariums of various sizes and some other smaller plastic containers. The aquariums have screen tops and this is usually where the caterpillars form their chrysalis'. The milkweed is usually much larger than the ones you see here. In fact, the first batch of eggs isn't usually laid until the milkweed has flower buds on it and is a couple of feet tall. I do have some worries about being able to feed all of the caterpillars so soon!
 05/09/2012: We have babies!! All of the eggs are hatching today. Below is a photo of the very first one of the season. I usually follow only one of them along on their journey, even though I raise many more! I just went out in the yard to get some fresh leaves and see that there are more eggs waiting to be harvested. The reason I don't leave them out in the garden is because over 90% of them die out in the wild. If you plan on looking for eggs or babies on your milkweed, please use a magnifying glass or you may miss them. As you can see they are so tiny! I've included a grain of rice as usual so that you can see just how tiny they are. Beside the caterpillar what is left of his egg. They hatch and then he will eat the shell and continue on and start eating the milkweed. They must have a continuous supply throughout their life. The bigger they get, the more they eat!
05/10/2012: At this point I'm overwhelmed with the amount of eggs in the yard. At last count I have at least 150 of them! There are more in the yard but I will leave some because if I pick all of the milkweed I won't have anything to feed them as they hatch. We usually don't see this many eggs because the milkweed is usually much larger and they are spread out over a large area. Every milkweed that is coming up in my yard has eggs all over it! I am pulling up tiny milkweed and this year I went out and bought a window box and put the tiny milkweed in there to try and keep it alive until the babies hatch.
05/17/2012: Some of you have asked for specifics on feeding the babies once they hatch. I have mine in aquariums, as shown above. I put newspaper on the bottom and then I add fresh milkweed leaves when needed. When I harvest the leaves I make sure there are no eggs on them. This is a difficult task this year! To raise Monarchs you must have a supply of fresh milkweed since it is the only thing they can eat. Below is "Slinky" and he/she is now 8 days old. You can't tell whether they are male or female until they form their chrysalis. Growth is a bit behind this season and I believe it is due to the weather. Normally after 8 days they would be ready to form their chrysalis and as you can see, Slinky is barely larger than the grain of rice.

05/20/2012: Some of the caterpillars on milkweed leaves.

05/21/2012: Slinky, 12 days old. It shouldn't be too long now before he heads to the top of the container to form his chrysalis.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Butterfly Tales 2011

May 25, 2011

Yay, so excited that they have arrived! I came home from work for lunch yesterday and found a couple of eggs. I didn't have time to harvest any and it poured and thunderstormed all night long. First thing this morning I went outside to see how many I had. I found 8 this morning and that was it. After a couple of hours I went outside and saw my first monarch flying around, and then another in the yard to the north of me. I started looking and found 10 more eggs for a total of 18.

May 30, 2011

The Monarch caterpillar can only eat milkweed so that is the only place the female lays her eggs. The egg takes from 3-5 days to hatch. A dime in the picture for size comparison.

It took 5 days for my first egg to hatch. A little longer than usual because of the chilly temps we had. I find that the cooler it is the longer they take to hatch.

June 1, 2011

"When the caterpillar has become too large for its skin, it molts, or sheds its skin. At first, the new skin is very soft, and provides little support or protection. The new skin soon hardens and molds itself to the caterpillar, which often eats the shed skin before starting in anew on plant food! The intervals between molts are called instars. Monarchs go through five instars. Approximate length of body at each stage: 1st instar, 2-6mm; 2nd instar, 6-9mm; 3rd instar, 10-14mm; 4th instar, 13-25mm; 5th instar, 25-45mm." Source:

Normally they stay on their milkweed plant to shed their skin but this little guy climbed off and went down on the newspaper that I have lining the bottom of the aquarium. This is just a normal newspaper so you can compare his size to the size of the print. The black specks you see to your left are his shriveled up skin and caterpillar poop. After they shed they can't move for a while and are very vulnerable when they are outside. I'm sure this is when most of them get eaten. 90% of Monarchs die in the wild. Their main enemy is the wasp.I have named this little guy/girl, McQueen, after the actress, Butterfly McQueen. You cannot tell whether they are male or female until they form their chrysalis.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Clearwing Moth

June 26, 2010: Clearwing Moth

Clearwing Moth - Melittia Cucurbitae aka Squash Vine Borer MothI love my butterfly garden! This has been the second species of clearwing moths that have visited my butterfly garden. I was so excited when I saw it and I didn't even know what it was, just that it was something unusual. When they eat they feed like hummingbirds and hover. I stood out there for hours today just waiting for him to come back. I really need him to come back so I can get a better picture! This is the clearest picture I got and it's more of his butt and hairy legs. ~sigh~

Here is the first one from last year. A clearwing hummingbird moth.

Mourning Cloak

I've decided that it might be nice to add some photos of the other visitors to my butterfly garden. I'll try to keep these in order of their visit but no promises. I've been taking photos of them all summer and adding them to my 365 Project so I may as well add them here.

June 13, 2010: Mourning Cloak

I went to the cemetery to take photos with a few people from my photography group. After the cemetery my hubby wanted me to go garage sale-ing with him. Right before we were leaving he yelled at me to bring my camera because there was a butterfly in the yard. A NEW one as he called it. I came out to find this beauty sitting on one of my ceramic shoe planters in the flower bed. I searched the Internet to find out what it was and what its host plants are, meaning what it lays its eggs on.

These butterflies lay eggs in clusters around twigs of their favored food plants, in Europe, generally Grey Willow (Salix cinerea) and in North America, generally Black Willow (Salix nigra) but also other willow species, as well as poplar, elm, birch, and hackberry. The larvae feed gregariously, and are black and spiny, with fine white speckles, and a row of red spots running down the back. They disperse to pupate and emerge after about three weeks. Soon after emergence, they will disperse further from their breeding grounds in order to find food (sometimes nectar, but more commonly tree sap) to build up fat stores for hibernation, and will often enter parks and gardens to do so. They are single-brooded and hibernate as adults.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Butterfly Tales 2010

All pictures and content on are the copyright of Karen Hofmann Please email me for permission to use.

Update: There was an article about my butterflies in a local newspaper.

Once again we will follow the journey of a butterfly from the time the egg is laid until it emerges from its chrysalis and becomes a Monarch Butterfly. I have a butterfly garden in my yard to help the monarch population. 90% of monarchs die in the wild. This year is an especially important year because they had a very rough winter in Mexico and a lot of the population died.

In the summer, I spend a lot of my time gathering butterfly eggs, watching caterpillars grow, harvesting milkweed for them to eat, cleaning out poopy cages, and taking tons of photos of them as they grow. I never tire of this process! It's great fun to watch them and help them along, and especially to introduce the monarch to other people.

My yard is also registered as a monarch waystation. What that means is that I have enough varieties of flowers to feed them, and enough host plants for them to lay eggs on.

And finally, one of my caterpillar photos is being used on a sign for a permanent monarch exhibit at the John Ball Zoo in Grand Rapids, Michigan. They found it on flickr and asked if they could use it. Of course I said yes! The sign is already there, and the exhibit is open, but it hasn't been officially announced yet.

Here is the photo they are using:

04/23/2010: First milkweed of the season poking its head through the ground. Milkweed is the only thing that the monarch caterpillar can eat. The female seeks out milkweed to lay her eggs. The eggs then hatch and the caterpillars feed on it until they are ready to transform into a chrysalis. It takes 3-6 days for the egg to hatch, 7 to 10 days for the caterpillar to get to full size, and another 7-10 days for it to form into a full grown butterfly inside of the chrysalis.

05/14/2010: About 3 weeks later and the milkweed has gotten considerably larger. I can see the flower bud already.

August 17, 2010: The two photos below are being added to this blog because they are a very important part of the process and I wanted to include them. These are the best photos I've ever taken of a monarch laying an egg. As you can see, I got a picture of her the instant she touched the leaf and you can actually see the egg she just laid in the next shot. I was SO excited to get these two shots and see that they turned out! I'm still excited when I look at them LOL.

May 29, 2010: Saw a monarch this morning! It wasn't in my garden but of course the first thing I am going to do is to get out my magnifying glass and see if there are eggs. WooHoo! I found two eggs on my plants behind my house, but none in my actual butterfly garden. I'm sure there are more out there somewhere but I haven't had time to check. I wanted to get these in the house where they are safe and get a picture. When I bring them in the house I clip off the top part of the milkweed and I put them in a small bottle, and then in a small aquarium.

May 30, 2010: As you can see in the picture below, the egg has turned almost black. That is the caterpillar inside, ready to come out. I sat with my camera for about 2 hours and tried to get a picture of it coming out of the egg. Unfortunately it was getting late, I was beat from a long day, and I had to give up and get some rest. If I get another one at some point I will insert it after this picture.

May 31, 2010: Sometime in the middle of the night, a little caterpillar was born! I'm calling this one Doodle, as in Doodle Bug. He will be the subject for the blog this year. I have approximately 7 eggs at the moment. This is just the first batch, they will come back and lay eggs many times during the summer and I will harvest every time. As every year, we will start off with a grain of rice so you can see how tiny he is.

June 1, 2010: You can see by the photo below how much he has grown, just overnight! His stripes are more defined and his shape is much more streamlined. I now have 10 caterpillars!

June 3, 2010: He's still not bigger than the grain of rice but he's getting there. I 'think' he must have shed his skin not long before this picture was taken. They shed their skin 5 times during their life as a caterpillar. Each new stage is called an instar. You can see that he is now starting to get his antennae.

June 4, 2010: I think he's officially bigger than the grain of rice! His antennae have grown since yesterday and he's looking more and more like a full grown caterpillar.

June 6, 2010: Look how much he has grown in just two days! I love this stage! Their antennae look like puppy dog ears. They are much too big for his body LOL.

June 6, 2010: Another shot from the same day, just a different angle. He's really looking like a caterpillar should! I say he but truthfully you can't tell the gender until they form their chrysalis.

June 8, 2010: 8 days old now and it will probably only be two more days until he forms his chrysalis at the top of the aquarium. I have a screen top on there which makes it easy for them to spin their little web where they will hang for 7 to 10 days.

June 10, 2010: 10 days old now and he should head to the top at any moment. I've never had one go much beyond 10 days as a caterpillar. He's really beautiful, don't you think?

June 11, 2010: When I woke this morning to find Doodle in his J shape, I was SO excited! I've been raising butterflies for years now and this is the first time that one has hung itself on a piece of milkweed rather than the top of the cage. So hard to get nice pictures when you have a plastic lid or metal screen in the background.

June 11, 2010: Below is a series of photos that show the transformation from caterpillar to chrysalis. Lots of people think that the chrysalis forms around the caterpillar but actually the skin splits and the chrysalis is inside. I can always tell when they are ready to change because their little antennae get all twisted. It seemed like a long morning. I went out at around 8 a.m. to start watching for signs of the change. I was getting anxious because my son had a doctor's appointment at 9:30 and I didn't want to miss it. Doodle was very restless and there was a lot of movement but no twisted antennae.

We left at 9:15 and I was sure I was going to miss it. We came back home and I was happy to see he hadn't changed yet, and still no twisted antennae. We got home at around 10 and I sat until about 12:30 with nothing happening except a bit of twitching. I HAD to do some running so I reluctantly left and did what I needed to do. I came back in about a half an hour and when I looked, his antennae were twisted! I got my gear all set up. My gear is my tripod, camera, Doodle, a bucket full of cut milkweed for background green, and my phone in case it rings. It took about a half an hour more and then it began.

When he straightens out almost all the way I know it's time! All the way down by his head, the skin begins to split and you can see the green. It slowly splits while he is wiggling and trying to help it along. When the skin finally gets all the way to the top, he begins violently twisting and swinging to try and get the skin off. Once it falls to the ground he calms down. In about an hour or so the chrysalis has hardened and becomes more smooth looking.

June 11, 2010: This is Doodle's skin after he shook it off and it fell to the ground. You can still see his face, antenna and his legs.

June 11, 2010: This is the top of the chrysalis. There are a couple of black dots at the top. If this were a female, there would be a line in the middle of the dots. Since there isn't a line, this means that Doodle is a boy.

June 13, 2010: A couple of days later. After an hour or so their chrysalis hardens and turns shiny and green. In the photo below you can see that the plant where Doodle made his chrysalis has wilted and is almost dead. Time to remove him and put him somewhere else.

June 18, 2010: I have removed Doodle from his wilted and dead milkweed plant and hot glued him to a nice stick. The chrysalis must be in a place where the butterfly can hang free of any obsticles so that his wings can dry properly. It really should be any day now. If you look closely you can see the lines in his wings as well as a body forming. The body is the dark area in the front lower part of the chyrsalis. I sure hope Doodle cooperates and comes out while I'm home. I have Monday off so I don't have to be back to work until Tuesday afternoon.

June 19, 2010: Tomorrow we will have a butterfly! You can already see his wings changing colors inside of the chrysalis and I have no doubt that tomorrow we will welcome Doodle the butterfly into the world. His transformation will be complete.

June 20, 2010: Today is the day! As you can see by the photo below, today is definitely the day that Doodle will make his appearance into the world! The first butterfly of the season is always exciting, although each and every one that I get to set free is just as exciting for me.

June 20, 2010: Below is a series of photos that show Doodle emerging from his chrysalis and becoming a beautiful Monarch butterfly! You can see the chrysalis begin to crack. I only had to wait an hour and a half for this, as opposed to the 5 1/2 hours I waited for him to form his chrysalis. Thank you Doodle LOL! I probably snapped another 200+ pictures but narrowed it down to a few that showed the entire process. It probably only takes a total of 3 minutes for him to come all the way out, but another couple of hours for his wings to fill with fluid. When he first comes out his wings are tiny and crumpled but within 10 minutes or so they are fully formed. It takes him a couple of hours for his wings to dry. This gives me plenty of time to take him around my yard and set him on various flowers to get a great shot of him.

June 20, 2010: Wasn't that exciting?! We now have a fully formed male butterfly! You can tell he is a male by the two dots on his wings, near the bottom of his body. The female doesn't have these dots and the lines on her wings are also thicker than the male. After about an hour and a half I took Doodle back to my butterfly garden to try and get some pictures. He immediately started feeding on the milkweed flowers. Butterflies drink the nectar with their tongue, which is called a probscis. He cooperated nicely for me and stayed for about 10 minutes before he flew away. In about 4-6 days they are ready to find a mate and start the process all over again. They only live from 2-5 weeks, except for the last batch of the year towards fall. Those lucky butterflies live about 8 months. They fly all the way to Mexico and in the springtime they start the long trip back to do it all again. I sure hope that Doodle's mate comes back to my garden to bless me with some more eggs so that I can do this all summer long. Thank you so much for coming along on this incredible journey with me! Below is Doodle the monarch butterfly! So majestic in all of his glory.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Butterfly Tale 2009

Once again we will follow the journey of a butterfly from the time the egg is laid until it emerges from its chrysalis and becomes a Monarch Butterfly.

My milkweed crop for 2009.

June 7, 2009: Watched a Monarch flying around my milkweed today. I thought she was trying to get nectar from the not yet opened flowers but it turned out she was laying her eggs right on the flower buds. I've never seen them do this before so hopefully the eggs will hatch and the caterpillars will survive. In 3 to 6 days the eggs should hatch.

June 11, 2009: The dark part at the tip of the egg is the caterpillar's head. Most likely it will emerge from the egg sometime today.

June 12, 2009: Thankfully the eggs hatched. Two tiny caterpillars next to a grain of rice so you can see how tiny they actually are.

June 14, 2009: The caterpillars (11 total) are now 3 days old. You can see they have grown a bit. The little black dot next to him is a piece of caterpillar poop. For some reason kids are obsessed with the poop, some grownups too LOL.