Journal archives for January 2020

January 29, 2020

Looking Back

(Late August - September) We found 7 chrysallides on our 0.8 acre property. 3 were on the trellis holding the passionflower plant, 1 was hanging from my super huge 1 year old kale plant (3 feet away), and one was hanging on the ironwork column near my front door (34 feet away). I guess I need to research how far the larvae will travel to find just the right spot to pupate. This is important because my trellis is near the road and there are undisturbed wooded lots on the other side. I may be losing some caterpillars to passing cars!

I did notice that I lost more caterpillars during the late summer after the sudden demise of my cat (likely to a hungry owl). I assume that more birds came into the yard as a result and feasted on the fat, red larvae. There are usually two waves of caterpillars. The first wave eats the passionflower plant until there are no more leaves. The second wave waits to hatch until the foliage returns, then devours all of it over about a month or two. Well, while there was no cat to frighten off the predators, the first wave took much longer to gobble up all the foliage. However, the larvae kept on returning! I adopted a new cat in early autumn, and things went back to normal. (Don't worry about the birds, I have safe 100 ft tall pines for them to land on away from the cat AND I have a neighbor 4 blocks away who provides the birds with a safe feeding environment! Lots of feeders all over her yard.)

(October) The local Master Gardeners have a butterfly enclosure for community outreach. Inside, they had some Gulf Fritillary larvae that hung themselves from a contraption that looked like one of those wire mesh bird feeders. It hung on a chain from a wooden timber protruding from the passionflower trellis. I need to research if this is something I need to hang for my caterpillars. It seemed to be a favorite spot because there were 3 pupating caterpillars and 2 more inching their way down the chain. I did notice that there were significantly fewer wild butterflies this year in the open air butterfly garden. Last year, it was hard not to bump into a butterfly (or vice versa) and there was a variety of species. Sadly, not the case this year. Mostly monarchs released by the Master Gardeners in a effort to increase the population and track the migration.

(November) We had our first frost. Before it happened, the plant starting sending up new shoots away from the main plant rather than growing a third wave of foliage on the main plant. I mowed around a few vines in order to feed the new recruits (because they'll just keep hatching until there's nothing left to eat!). I moved the old eaters when all the leaves were gone from the main plant to the new when the new vines reached 6 ft long. Then, the frost finished them all off for the year. I found 2 more chrysallides on my trellis, but they did not survive the frost.

(December) was uneventful unless you wanna talk about the weather. There is a standing joke about how Texas' fall only last 2 weeks. It's true. We our first frost was in November, then, in an unusual twist, December went right back to fall/spring and stayed there for a month. Temperatures having 70 degree F highs and 45-50 degree F lows, who could ask for a better range? Sunny on top of it all. We also had our first dry spell in many months. We also had some weather fronts that brought tornadoes in much of Northeast and East Texas.

(January) Back to winter. Various cold fronts brought lots of rain and cloudy days. Warmer than usual this time of year. No sleet or snow. Only grazing the freezing point for the low temperature (33-35 degrees F). I wonder what a winter like this will do to the insect population?

I attended a Master Naturalist meeting. The presentation that night was about pollinators! I put in my two cents about digging up a native passionflower vine and raising caterpillars. The group confirmed that it is normal for the caterpillars to eat and eat and eat until no leaves are left AND the plant will send up new shoots all over the yard if you let it! I also found out that pollinator species who don't migrate will often hide in leaf litter to ride out the winter.

I might make it a goal for the next year to have the Master Naturalists over when the trellis is covered and the caterpillars are at their peak. Might be a fun outing for everyone :)

Posted on January 29, 2020 21:39 by redpenny redpenny | 0 comments | Leave a comment