Readers’ wildlife photos

July 23, 2020 • 9:00 am

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Today we have a sequence of butterfly development taken by reader David Fuqua, whose captions are indented.

My wife, Debra, and I have been staying at home like we are supposed to. We have enjoyed the opportunity to observe the life cycle of the Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus). Debra bought a couple of milkweed plants to start a butterfly garden. Her theory, and I agree, is that the eggs came in on one of the plants. Our first clue we had monarchs was the appearance of 25-30 caterpillars on the milkweed.

They consumed all the foliage before retiring into their chrysalises. Monarchs are aposematic, but the caterpillars and chrysalises are preyed on by wasps that lay eggs in them. We saw birds peck at a couple of the chrysalises and break the shell, killing the butterfly. Others succumbed for reasons unknown. We were able to watch six monarchs emerge as butterflies, expand their wings, dry them, and fly away.

When the monarch first emerges from the chrysalis, it holds on to the chrysalis shell and cannot fly. Its abdomen is full of fluid, which it starts pumping immediately into its wings to expand them. This process takes a matter of 5-6 minutes. Once the wings are fully expanded, the monarch continues to hold on to the chrysalis to dry. After 25-30 minutes, the monarch will flap its wings a few times then fly away to a sunny spot for more drying.

In addition to milkweed, Debra planted numerous nectar plants and other host plants, like parsley. Our hope is that some of the ones we hatched will return to the garden to lay more eggs. Most of the ones born in our garden were females, so we might have a good chance at another generation if they return to lay eggs. You can tell the female by the pronounced white spots on the trailing wing edge.

I captured these images with a Sony A7iii, mounted with a 90mm macro lens, on a tripod, manual focus.

14 thoughts on “Readers’ wildlife photos

  1. Very fine work! A good documentation of this life cycle.
    That is a lot of monarch “cats” for a few plants!
    There are a few visible differences between male and female monarch butterflies. The most common one used is a distinctive black spot on the hind wings in males.

    1. Silly me, I just looked up the male monarch distinction on Google. Shoulda known Mark would tell us.

      I did not know monarch caterpillars were gorgeous too. I guess they really do rule. Orange is the new royal blue.

  2. Nice sequence! Thanks for the photos and narrative. We allow (regular) milkweed to grow in our gardens to encourage the Monarchs. Many caterpillars this year!

  3. Simply terrific work, David. You’re lucky to have been bestowed with so many eggs on the milkweeds. So far I’ve seen only 1 monarch butterfly and just a handful of eggs scattered about the milkweeds. With luck, we’ll get some metamorphosis happening over the summer! We certainly have been afflicted with the kale-eating green caterpillars of the sulphur moth.

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