Daily Archives: November 30, 2013

The Perils and Plight of the Priceless Monarch Butterfly

Monarch on Mexican Milkweed

Monarch on Mexican Milkweed

Monarch nectaring on native Frostweed

Monarch nectaring on native Frostweed

Monarch Butterfly

Monarch Butterfly

Monarch favoring Mexican Butterfly Weed instead of native Frostweed

Monarch favoring Mexican Butterfly Weed instead of native Frostweed

Monarch reallyt likes Mexican Butterfly Weed. Most of them favored this plant to the native Frostweed in my yard.

Monarch reallyt likes Mexican Butterfly Weed. Most of them favored this plant to the native Frostweed in my yard.

Monarch nectaring on Mexican Butterfly Weed

Monarch nectaring on Mexican Butterfly Weed

The Monarch butterfly is found in various parts of the world such as Canada, USA, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico and, even is a rarity in Great Britain if weather conditions are just right. It is the only butterfly as far as I’ve found that migrates an extremely long distance to winter in the fir clad mountains of central Mexico. In other parts of the world where the climate will sustain it year round there is no need to migrate.

In Canada and the US it goes through four complete life cycles where the fourth cycle is responsible for the first cycle of the next year. The 4th or last stage is born in September and October but here in my yard of central Texas there were three butters that were born between November 12 and the 19th. There were possibly more since I was only watching three chrysalis that I happened to find.

The last or 4th stage butterfly migrates to Mexico and those butters have a life cycle of 6 and possibly 8 months. During the winter months the butters in Mexico congregate in huge masses as they hang on the branches of the fir trees in the mountains. The hibernating butters, simply put “hang out.” This 4th stage butterfly comes out of hibernation about February and March, mates and then begins its return to the US and Canada. This last stage will look for milkweed plants as it begins winging its way north and east. The Monarch butterfly only hosts on Milkweed which has rapidly declined as progress marches forward and replaces native habitat with highways, byways, homes, and shopping centers.

But lets not forget the use of pesticides which have also contributed to declining numbers. There is one in use that is similar to DDT.Scientists have now identified this one that points to colony collapse of bee hives. So this one pesticide is also now killing Monarch butterflies as well. Or at least believed so. Studies are ongoing and it will take years to get the government to ban its use.

And finally the wintering grounds are now being decimated by illegal logging and fir tree clearance to grow crops for the drug trade.

This year by early November it was estimated that only 3 million Monarchs had arrived. Once upon a time the wintering Monarchs covered the fir trees of many acres. Now scientists say the trees used for hibernation amounts to less than a few acres.

Then the last straw is a huge debate involving the Mexican butterfly milkweed. Some scientists believe this plant is potentially harmful since it is not “the real deal.” Meaning that it is a non native. However, surely some of the Monarchs have been nectaring on this plant in Mexico during migration for eons.

Experts tell us to plant more milkweed and I say that any milkweed that sustains the caterpillars and results in a hale and healthy butterfly then it surely is ok. No one has banned its sale in the nurseries. If “we” are to plant more milkweed then somebody needs to make the native seeds available. I have searched high and low for seeds on the Internet and have yet to find a source. My last hope is the Natural Gardener and The Lady Bird Johnson Native Plant Center in Austin, Texas.

In March and April the eggs are laid on milkweed plants. It takes about four days for the eggs to hatch into baby caterpillars, called larvae. The larvae then eat and grow and after about two weeks, the caterpillar leaves the host plant and attaches its chrysalis to another plant or an object. Metamorphosis then begins and generally takes 12-14 days but one that I observed took about 4 weeks before it emerged from its metamorphosing chamber. The chrysalis was attached to the stem of a Copper Canyon Daisy plant.

The first three stages of the Monarch has a life cycle of 2 to 6 weeks and sometimes a bit longer. Only the last stage butterflies live 6-8 months.

The overall color pattern is one that I can best describe as a stained glass effect. The orange and black coloration of the Monarch does not sound impressive but after seeing a Monarch in real time I believe anyone would agree that the Monarch is king of the butterflies.

Butterfly egg of the Black Swallowtail on Rue,  I do not have a pic of a Monarch egg which is a bit more oval than this one.

Butterfly egg of the Black Swallowtail on Rue, I do not have a pic of a Monarch egg which is a bit more oval than this one.

monarch caterpillar eating leaves of Mexicam Butterfly Weed. Small dark globs on leaves is frass (caterpillar feces)

monarch caterpillar eating leaves of Mexicam Butterfly Weed. Small dark globs on leaves is frass (caterpillar feces)

In less than 1-2 hours this caterpillar became the jade green chrysalis.

In less than 1-2 hours this caterpillar became the jade green chrysalis.

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Jade green chrysalis, with gold rim at the top. Firmly attached to a twig

Jade green chrysalis, with gold rim at the top. Firmly attached to a twig

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Chrysalis of Monarch butterfly. Its former home where  it changed from caterpillar to a butterfly

Chrysalis of Monarch butterfly. Its former home where it changed from caterpillar to a butterfly

Monarch drying its wings in semi shade. Chrysalis lower left just below dried leaf.

Monarch drying its wings in semi shade. Chrysalis lower left just below dried leaf.

Monarch drying its wings. Frequent changing of shady to sunny. Time about 2:30pm

Monarch drying its wings. Frequent changing of shady to sunny. Time about 2:30pm

Newborn Monarch waiting for its wings to dry. It  was shady in this photo.

Newborn Monarch waiting for its wings to dry. It was shady in this photo.

Newborn" Monarch. My Lt. hand held bloom and Rt. hand held camera. Last pic before it flew away.

Newborn” Monarch. My Lt. hand held bloom and Rt. hand held camera. Last pic before it flew away.

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An Unknown Bird. Poor Photos. Just Need an ID

Please ignore the multiple postings of this bird. There is a glitch in the hitch of my blog. I have labored over a Monarch butterfly post off and on for weeks and those photos have doubled and tripled as well. I have deleted and begun anew until I am sick of it all with the Monarchs. So these birds will just stay. I have no idea what to do about the glitch. Maybe it will go away. Or maybe it is what it is- whatever that might be. 🙂

I am going to blame my posting of these dreadful bird photos on Andrew Hardacre who suggested this post. 🙂 http://ajh57.wordpress.com/

I took these photos in September through a window screen. I was desperate to get some photos of this bird since I knew not what he/she might be. So I did what any self-respecting bird and nature fanatic would do. Just shoot through the window screen and hope the ID field marks are good enough to identify the bird.I have looked in Sir Google and all my field guides and I just am not smart enough to figure this one out. I’ve been away from birding for about 20 years. Actual in the field birding, so I am “out of tune” and off-key by more than I care to admit.

If anyone “knows” this bird, leave a comment and I hope my face does not acquire too much red. 🙂

I’ve searched and researched and the best that I can do is to call this a subspecies of the Bullock’s or Baltimore Oriole. There are two sub species. I.b. bullockii and the other is I.b. Parvus. The other possibility is that this bird is a hybrid and according to literature the hybrids molt at least twice before the next spring. It also might not be possible to give this bird a positive ID if it is a subspecies.

I just wish that I had hired a carpenter to take the storm window off before fall migration. I had wanted to remove the screen but the entire outer window has to be removed. There is another window that “goes up and down” in front of the storm window. I plan to get that done soon since this is a window for optimum viewing and thus acts a perfect place to set up my little ole canon 60D with its el cheapo 200mm lens.

unknown bird    September 10,2013

Unknown bird September 10,2013

9/10/2013  Unknown bird

9/10/2013 Unknown bird

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Photographed through a window screen. September 10, 2013

Photographed through a window screen. September 10, 2013

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