Saturday, April 18, 2015

First Monarch of the 2015 Spring Season Emerges!

April 17th was an exciting day for our family!  Our first monarch butterfly of the 2015 Spring season emerged safely, and it's a girl.  :-)  We have about 30 more chrysali left to emerge, and many many more caterpillars besides.  Truthfully, we are just about out of milkweed leaves.  I've already bought 2 milkweed plants this past Thursday, and the leaves on both of them are just about gone.  (See photo below)

My children had fun releasing the first butterfly of the season.

If all of our caterpillars had made it, we would have between 60-70 chrysali now.  Sadly, predatory flies have really done their damage.  They have killed 30+ caterpillars thus far.  The biggest hurt for us is the waste of milkweed leaves that occurs because of that.  When you consider that each caterpillar eats about 20 milkweed leaves, and you multiply that times 30 caterpillars, this means 600 milkweed leaves were sacrificed for nothing.  We lost 600 leaves and got no butterflies out of it.  That really stinks.  600 milkweed leaves can go along way.  I thought I was starting the season with amble milkweed, but now I'm not so sure.

When we saw how many were being killed by the flies, we immediately started bringing them indoors.  But even then, about 1/2 died.  In the future, all caterpillars will have to come inside in pavilions.  That's the only way to insure theire safety.  They will have to be collected early before their 2nd or 3rd instar to insure their safety.

Well, that's all for now.  More butterflies to come in the upcoming days.  This is the exciting part.

Happy Monarching!

Caleb & Janae Warren

Friday, April 10, 2015

Blue Vine Milkweed To The Rescue

Well, we have had about 10 caterpillars to die because of the predatory flies.  There may be a few more that will before we are through.  It is good that we brought them in when we did.

The caterpillars are going through my milkweed leaves like crazy.  Even my flowers are barely satisfying them.  Then, today, I happened to think about my Blue Vine milkweed which is growing wild in my yard.  It is a wild native species to Texas.  I have to constantly keep it trimmed back.  It will grow right between the wood siding planks on the side of my house if I let it.  I don't have a lot of it right now, but I decided to harvest what I have for the hungry caterpillars.  Below is a picture of them grazing on the blue vine milkweed.

By now, we must have close to 50 caterpillars in there!  Hopefully, I will have enough leaves and flowers to hold out.  I will let you know how it turns out.

(Extra hungry Monarch caterpillars eating Blue Vine milkweed)

Happy Monarching!

Caleb & Janae Warren

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

How Milkweed Flowers Can Help You Rear Monarchs

Well, the Monarchs have been coming through the area the last few weeks.  Yesterday, after seeing some predatory flies trying to lay eggs on our caterpillars, we decided to rescue them and bring them inside to safety.  The kids are getting leaves and milkweed flowers for the cats, which brings me to a little helpful tip for you.

If you are raising Monarchs, you know those little caterpillars can have a voracious appetite.  One cat can consume 20 full sized milkweed leaves from birth to chrysalis.  It doesn't take many to decimate even a large milkweed plant.  If you're raising them indoors to protect them, it's not uncommon to run short on milkweed leaves.  How can you get the most out of your plants?

Well, one way is to cut the flowers off and feed them to the caterpillars too.  Yes, they will eat the flowers.  Harvesting the flowers helps you and your plants out in a couple of ways.  First, it stretches out your leaves so they will go farther.  Second, when the flowers are cut off, this sends a signal to the plant to make more flowers.  After a plant flowers and mades seeds, it begins to slow down because it has accomplished its purpose to propagate its species.  Removal of the flowers suspends this "slow down" process and actually stimulates the plant to increase it's production of leaves and flowers.

Feeding milkweed flowers and even green seed pods to my caterpillars has saved me and my Monarchs on numerous occasions.  Give it a try, and you'll no doubt be amazed at how much farther your milkweed plants will go in rearing your monarch caterpillars.

(Can you see the baby Monarch caterpillar on the underside of the leaf?)

(No shortage of milkweed flowers here.)

(Some of the many caterpillars we rescued today.)

Well, back to our story for today.  We have collected some 30-50 Monarch caterpillars and have them in 2 pavillions in our house.  Hopefully, most if not all will make it.  Time to go harvest some leaves and flowers again.

Happy Monarching!

Caleb & Janae Warren

Thursday, March 5, 2015

More Monarchs Released Within The last Week

We took some of this last batch of Monarch chrysali' up to my daughter's first grade class and let them release them when they came out.  According to their teacher, they thoroughly enjoyed the experience.  When I was delivering the chrysali' to my daughter's class, it amazed me how all the students in the hallway were enthralled by the caterpillars and chrysali'.  There's just something so appealing about butterflies.  It's hard to resist them. 

All totaled, they released 4 females and 2 males.  Additionally, we released one female here at home.  So, that's a total of 7 more Monarchs which brings our grand total of Monarchs raised and released to 2,084. 

There are 3 chrysali' left here at home in one of our pavilions.  Also, my son has a Pipevine Swallowtail chrysalis that should be emerging soon.  Hopefully, we can post some pictures of it too.

After Spring Break, we plan to do a milkweed activity with the students.  If all goes well, each student will have a milkweed plant to take home and plant.

Happy Monarching,

Caleb & Janae Warren

Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Latest Batch Begins To Emerge

Last Thursday, February 19th, we took the first 5 Monarchs from this latest batch up to my daughter's 1st grade elementary school class.  They were thrilled to see the butterflies.  Later that day, after lunch, they released them.  There were 3 females and 2 males.  Due to the cold temperatures and smaller supplies of milkweed, they were slightly smaller than average.

Additionally, one female Monarch emerged this morning in our mudroom.  She had fallen from her silk pad, so we tied some thread to her stem and hung her in the mudroom.  She emerged just fine this morning.  So, as of today, we have raised a grand total of 2,077 Monarchs!

There are 6 more chrysali' in the pavilion at school.  One or two of them are Queen butterflies.  We help them out too when we can.  We will give you an update after they emerge.  This year's 2014-2015 winter season has been unique in that we have not hit 32 degrees the whole winter.  The lowest we have gotten to is around 37.  So, we have had Monarchs hang around for the whole winter for the first time.  As the climate changes and warms, so do does their migratory behavior.  Hopefully the migration will not fall apart. 

I am hoping that these new butterflies will be able to head north with their fellow monarchs when they pass through this area between March 1st - 15th.  We will keep you posted.

In my next post, I will review a couple of different ways to propagate milkweed. 

Happy Monarching!

Caleb & Janae Warren

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Monarchs On The Gulf Coast Year Round

This winter, I have observed something new here on the Texas Gulf Coast.  Monarchs have stayed here through the winter.  For the first time since I moved here in the fall of 2008, we have not had a winter freeze of any sort.  The lowest temperatures thus far for this winter have been in the upper 30's.  Today, we are having a cold snap.  Last night's low was 40.  As the climate continues to warm, this is affecting the migration of the Monarchs.  The warmer it gets, the less numbers will migrate south for the winter.  Previously, we have always had a true freeze 1-3 times during each winter.  Without any true freezes, any Monarchs born after the migration period tend to stay in the area.  Two times this winter, we have raised 2 batches of 12+ Monarchs and released them.  

Currently, we have 12 chrysali'.  The first Monarch emerged from its chrysalis last night.  The 2nd one is turning dark today.  As soon as the temperature warms up, we will release them.  It might work out that some of these guys will join the northern migration as they fly through the area next month.  Normally, the Monarchs migrate through here between March 1st through the 15th.  We look forward to seeing them.  

Again, I want to take this opportunity to encourage all my readers to plant as much milkweed as you can.  Since one caterpillar can consume 20 full sized milkweed leaves, and since 1 female Monarch can lay 600+ eggs during her lifetime, you can see how strong the need for milkweed is.  That is the #1 thing we can do to help the Monarchs.  Also, do not put pesticides on your milkweed plants as this will kill the butterfly caterpillars.  Removal of other insects by hand or by spraying them off with water is the best way to take care of unwanted pests on your milkweed.

One last note:  On February 7th, my family was invited to do a presentation on the Monarch butterfly at a nearby Chamber of Commerce meeting.  All went well, and many were educated about the plight of the Monarch.  We mentioned that the area of Texas that we live in is called "Butterfly Alley".  One landscpaper was there from the community.  He said he will plant more milkweeed as he landscapes yards in his area.  We felt really good about that.  So, if you are hiring a landscaper to beautify your yard, please ask him to plant milkweed and not to use poison on it.

Happy Monarching!

Caleb & Janae Warren          

P.S.  The first Monarch from this batch is a female.                    :-)