Welcome To Our Backyard 1997

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January 18, 1997

Monarch Butterflies are present in numbers now. We observe several every day and they are laying eggs. We have also observed Giant Sulphurs laying eggs as well. After a relatively long absence, we spotted a Gulf Fritillary in the garden sipping nectar and a brown folded-wing skipper, unusual for this time of year.


February 10, 1997

The Monarchs have just about elininated all the milkweed leaves in our garden. Thus far, they have produced at least two generations thus far this winter. The Monarchs of the last generation are dying off (I've found several dead - recycled as ant food) and their caterpillars are for the most part in chrysalis although eggs are now nearly always present. We see Giant Sulphurs daily and now have seen some Gulf Fruitillaries as well. I spotted a Tiger Swallowtail sipping nectar the other day. It is really the wrong time of year for them, but its been warm and I guess this fellow thought it was spring.

March 3, 1997

Monarchs are ever present. The Giant Sulphurs visiting our cassia alata are Orange Barred Giant Suphurs and are the only species of Giant Suphur present at the moment.

March 17, 1997

Happy St. Patrick's Day. The Monarchs have munched the milkweed in the garden to the bone. The adults are now laying eggs on the bare stalks. By the time the eggs hatch, I guess they figure there will be a few sprouts on which the baby pillars will feed as the plant recovers. Unfortunately, this is about the fifth time the plants have been chewed to nubs since October and about half the now gnarly milkweed plants have given up the ghost and died.

The cassia alata had quite a few Giant Sulphu caterpillars on them, but when I checked today, there were none to be found. I know several were large and may have crawled off the pupate, but I suspect many fell prey to birds. We had a flock of Red Winged Blackbirds here a couple of days ago which stayed around the lake to feed before continuing their migration north.

The big news in the St. Petersburg area is the infestation of the Eastern Tent Caterpillar (a moth) which feeds on the leaves of our many Oak trees in the area (6 in our yard). They are everywhere you look - millions upon millions of them. Our driveway looks heavily peppered in appearance from caterpillar droppings from the trees above. In fact, if you are quiet and listen, you hear a sound that appears at first to be gently falling rain. Nope...the caterpillar droppings are cascading off the leaves in such huge numbers, the sound is plainly audible. It is literally raining ... well, you get the idea.

April 14, 1997

Monarchs are still present in good numbers. We counted over 100 caterpillars the past two weeks. We've planted several species of passion vine and are now drawing Gulf Fritillaries which have left eggs. Last night, in the dusky twilight, I saw a Zebra Longwing. It is the first I've seen here. I had thought they were absent due the lack of forested habitat nearby, but evidently, some are present. We have also seen a small butterfly we identified as the White M Hairsteak and have seen a species of Longtail which has laid eggs on one of our legumes. When the caterpillars grow, I may have and indentification. Orange Barred Suphurs are always present and we see Giant Swallowtails fairly often now.

May 20, 1997

About a week ago, we noticed a definite decline in Monarchs with very few eggs located on any plants. Four males were buzzing around the yard, but no females were seen until today when one finally showed up. Since we are in late spring, I imagine many Monarchs now are migrating out of the state. While they have not completely disappeared, they are for the moment, definitely on the wane. This morning, I spotted another Zebra Longwing. They are a rare site here as of yet, but with additional plantings, we hope to draw more. At least they are in the neighborhood now, although in very small numbers.

July 15, 1997

Since the last entry, Monarchs have been present, but no eggs have been found. I've observed males on patroling territories, but apparently, there are no females around. It was about this time last year they all but completely disappeared from here. Gone north.

July 20, 1997

We discovered one caterpillar yesterday, nearly full grown. Males are patroling, now at least two, but still no sign of any females other than the lone caterpillar meaning a female visited about ten days ago.

This year we noticed the fall migrating Monarchs brought with them a disease, probably a protazoan infection, which we encountered raising some of the caterpillars. It could very well partially account for the low nuimbers of Monarchs we have seen in recent weeks as well as normal migration north. Every wild female we collected eggs from and raised in the last several months has been carrying this disease. In the wild, the butterflies are usually relatively dispearsed and the disease or infection probably accounts for only a small percentage of butterflies. We are concerned the infection may have reached saturation and uninfected butterflies in the wild may be the exception here now. The few survivors may all very well be carriers, Monarch equivalents of "Typhoid Mary." We are researching now and will post more detailed info as we receive it. Please email me if you have also encountered a disease with monarchs you have raised this year. I am interested in mapping this disease, if possible.

August 4, 1997

All summer we have watched a lonely Giant Swallowtail visit our yard as part of his territory. He is partial to the plantings of red pentas for nectar and we also have a wild lime tree planted (larval plant- various citrus). I was beginning to think there we no other Giants around, but I found two very small caterpillars on the wild lime a while back and managed to raise them to maturity. We released the first adult yesterday and the second one should emerge tomorrow. That will make at least three in the neighborhood. Due to the medfly spraying across Tampa Bay from us on the mainland, butterflies are going to be a rarity in many neighborhoods this year.

The Monarchs have become absent from our yard. There has been no sign since June 25 th when the lone patrolling male disappeared, apparently packing off for greener pastures. It has been a tough year for them with the disease and the spraying, but it is time for them to go. They'll be heading south again soon.

August 6, 1997

We released the second Giant Swallowtail today. Now there are three in the neighborhood. We see many Giant Sulphurs, mostly Oranged Barred, but a few Cloudless are in the area. We have been raising and releasing them all summer and they seem plentiful at the moment. Gulf Fritillaries are laying eggs on our passion vines. No monarchs. We have also seen some skippers, a longwing, a Black Swallowtail, possibly a Polidamus, hovering around the pipevines.

August 18, 1997

Just when I thought the Monarchs were history for the summer, a female shows up and lays some eggs. I collected 10 and they hatched 8/15/97. We also had an email report of two more sightings in the Palmetto, Fl., area. The Monarchs are around still, but in apparently very small numbers. We also collected Polydamus eggs from our pipevine which have now hatched as well and we are trying to raise them. We recently released some Frits and a number of Orange Barred Giant Sulphurs. Although we have now planted several of the recommended species of passion vine, we have yet to see Zebras in the neighborhood with the exception of a few rare sightings of a single butterfly, usually at dusk.

August 19, 1997

Two female Monarchs showed up this morning and I witnessed them laying eggs. The beat goes on.

October 19, 1997

The Monarchs have been present throughout since my last entry. I can't believe I haven't posted in over a month, but there has been nothing noteworthy. Last year, the Monarchs disappeared at the end of the summer until 2:00 p.m. on Oct. 12th, Columbus Day. This year Columbus Day wasn't as dramatic, but I believe I am beginning to see an increase in numbers in the yard again. At least two males have taken up residence and I've seen numerous females. The arrival of the second male and his determination to wrestle some milkweed territory away from the normally single resident male leads me to believe he is from out of town. Well, maybe. He has that New York attitude. The dogfights are fun to watch.

November 7, 1997

Well, I believe it is safe to say the winter migration is upon us. From late summer until recently, the Monarchs were present in small numbers but their larva were not reaching maturity. They were being completely wiped out by wasps. As the weather has cooled, the wasps have become much less active and the caterpillars are now beginning to survive in some numbers. I collected over 75 from our plants over the past few days and brought them inside to raise. They are all about third instar or younger. I know there are more out there, and every day now I observe at least one, usually two or more, females laying eggs. Prior to these guys, I raised 22 to chrysalis and the first adult emerged today. Prior to these first caterpillars, there have been no observable surviving larva for several months. If you count back the 11 days he spent as a chrysalis (hung 10-27), another probably 11 spent as a caterpillar (hatched 10-16) and four days as an egg, the date is Oct. 12, 1997, Columbus Day.



November 11, 1997

I've counted over 250 Monarch larva now. Our milkweed has been under attack from aphids for the past month and I know the plants won't support that many, so I've had to perform some "wildlife management." When the Monarchs arrive in the fall, there is always this population explosion. As far as the aphids, because the weather has been cool, the lady bugs have not been as active and although present in good numbers, they have not been laying very many eggs. I try to fight the aphids with natural methods and gather the lady bug eggs when I find them to hatch inside. I then redeposit the larva on plants. It is the larva of the Lady Bug that does the most aphids in, not the adults. The eggs are on the underside of a leaf usually in a small cluster of 15-20, sometimes more or less. They are the same orange color as the aphids, or sometimes lighter, and resemble, to my eye, a small bunch of half grown aphids. It is their uniform size that gives them away as eggs, not baby aphids. I believe the camouflage may act to lure aphids closer to the eggs since they do look like a small group of feeding aphids and that way the larva would have a meal waiting close by when they hatch. Little Draculas, aren't they? We've also learned to recognize the larva of a hover fly species that preys on these aphids. They don't eat as many as the Lady Bugs, but they do their job. If the concentration of aphids gets too high, the plants weaken and begin to be attacked by other pests. Then, I resort to soapy water because at that point, the plants may begin to die unless I intervene.

I find the relationship between the aphids and the milkweed almost as facinating as the Monarch's. The aphids are usually held in check by the Lady Bugs and Hover Flies while the temperatures are warm, but as the days grow shorter and the temperatures cool, the aphids begin to out produce the their' ability to consume and over populate. The same appears to happen with the Monarch, only the predator is a wasp that is likewise less active allowing the Monarch larva to grow to maturity with little removal by predators and they too over populate.

After all, the predation by wasps during the summer, being so efficient, could be a logical reason for the Monarchs in Florida to leave and migrate north to cooler temperatures where the wasps are either of different species or simply less efficient during the summer in their cooler locale than the wasps are in hot ol' Florida. Oh well. Food for thought.

December 11, 1997

The milkweed patches are gnawed to naked stumps. Even as the plants attempt to recover, the sprouts are consumed within a few days by roving caterpillars. It is taking its toll on the plants. The plants have been trying to regenerate, but before they can generate enough leafage to gain some strength, they are eaten back and forced to start all over again. As they try to recover time after time, you can just see them slowly give up and die. Before the caterpillar explosion, they were recovering from a severe aphid outbreak. The Ladybugs eventually got most of them, but they took their sweet time. Milkweed has a tough life for a poisonous plant.

Obviously, larva are present. How many? Too many.

The Monarch is called "The Christmas Butterfly" in South Africa because it is seen first at Christmastime which is in their summer. Here in Florida, they are "Christmas Butterflies" as well. We see more of them at this time of year than during the summer. In late summer, you may not see a Monarch at all. However, when they come down for the holidays, as they always do, they make pigs of themselves.

Well, many of the caterpillars did make it through to chrysalis despite the current drought of leafage. There will be butterflies here for Chistmas. We released about one hundred (some distance away) a week ago to help insure that. I do hope they can find some overlooked milkweed. There must be one or two plants left out there somewhere.

We will post further observations as warranted.

Thanks for visiting.

Dale & Peggy McClung

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