Monarch Summer

I've not been contributing to iNaturalist recently; partially because my camera is offline, mainly because I've been so involved in my garden and other projects that there's no time. Tomorrow I will be helping my daughter volunteer at a local preserve, and that brings my thoughts back to these matters. And what I'm likely to think of as a Sonoma August wanes and the September heat burgeons is: Monarchs.

One of my obsessions--and a rare one that my loved ones seem to tolerate with good humor--has been the growth and metamorphosis of these fine insects. The striking caterpillars are easy-once you've located the milkweed(never easy)- to find and raise. The exquisite crysalids can be transferred from wherever they are found by grasping the silken 'pillow' that they lay before their ecdysis to attach to whatever substrate, and fixing it to any convenient branch. By teasing loose a few strands of silk from this pillow, you can attach it merely by winding same around a thin branch; I often place a drop of white glue there to increase security. In many years, I've never had one fall off... My longtime favorite is to get a few branches of last year's dried anise flowers, and fix three or four insects to some of the radiating flower 'spokes'.

So what's the point of this intrusive nonsense? The point is to share the love with your ignorant fellow citizens. How many of these know more that two local lepidoptera? To reiterate(sorry, I'm old)a prior rant, this is what kills me about the 'butterfly garden' conceit: unless we pave them all, they have been given us gratis for free. So, one of these little displays can powerfully induce a sense of wonder; as well as a bit of salutary regret at living here scores of years without seeing a wild monarch's young life. How can we expect these folks to preserve what they've never known?

One idea, that is to pick a formed crysalid from the wild, must be mentioned only to disparage. Despite the fact that these very bright green items are found attached to pale yellow dried grass, or some dried woody stem or an old fencepost, they are invisible. The great Sue Hubble mentioned this in one of her digressions, and it's as true here as in her Eastern US stomping grounds. I have found one (1) in more years than I can remember. If you want to show crysalids, you have to raise the 'pillars'... period.

Even better, these babies have the unusual property of suddenly becoming transparent the day before emergence. The crysalid turns from it's initial luminous jade--fading slightly in the second week to mere apple green-- to what seems jet black; until a closer look finds the orange/black forewing in minature forming the wall of baby's cradle. The next morning, with only slight luck, you can witness the astonishing emergence.

I used to supply these things to a few elementary teachers. One time I did so I said that the butterfly would come out around ten o'clock...
darned if I wasn't taken literally so that a circle of expectant children were gathered by 9:55 around the table; with a lady Monarch emerging exact to her time at 10:00. When I heard later of my uncanny accuracy, I hardly knew what to say... And since this particular wonder takes so little time, even the iPad clones find it no strain on their micro attention spans. But that's ingenerous: I apologize . I suppose even H. Fabre was impatient as a child; perhaps something like this was the seed that sprouted to produce the "incomparable observer" of his maturity. We must hope.

Posted by icosahedron icosahedron, August 26, 2011 14:58


Photos / Sounds



Monarch Danaus plexippus




September 17, 2009 02:00 PM PDT


Mainly an illustration for my journal post... My daughter Liana with a newly emerged monarch.


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