Yesterday, just before the naturalist class started, I got a text message from my sister Melissa letting me know that the Painted Lady butterflies were emerging. She saw one of the chrysalises waggling and was worried that it might have been in a draft or something… then she saw the antenna pop out of it followed by the butterfly’s head. You can see the butterfly in the first video.
I had actually left the butterfly cage at home, rather than bringing it to class with me, because I thought everyone was still pretty much asleep in there. So, wouldn’t you know it, they chose that day to emerge! I let the class know that “we have babies!” and they were all excited to be able to see them, so when I got home, I took some photos and video snippets, which you can see HERE.
You can distinguish these Painted Ladies from their sister species, West Coast Ladies, by the dots on the top of the hind wings. In Painted Ladies, the dots are dark brown; in West Coast Ladies, they’re pale blue. Both species are native to California and use thistles as one of their host plants.
By the time I got home most of the butterflies were out and resting in the butterfly cage. One of the other chrysalises was waggling a lot, but it didn’t open while I was watching it. (You can see it wiggling next to an empty chrysalis in the second video.)
I got an order from Carolina Biological today of some live critters for my Certified California Naturalist course: five Painted Lady butterfly caterpillars, three Polyphemus Moth cocoons, and six Tobacco Hornworm pupal cases.
The caterpillars came in a sealed jar with an agar-like material on the bottom to feed them as they grow. When they get fat enough, they’ll climb to the top of the jar, suspend themselves upside-down from the inside of the cap, form their chrysalises and then emerge as butterflies. Once the butterflies come out, I can release them from the jar and into the butterfly cage I have. (They can also eventually go outside to complete their lifecycle. All of these critters are native to California, so we won’t be releasing invasives into the environment.)
I’ve had Polyphemus Moth cocoons before, and they’re effortless to care for. You just set them inside a butterfly enclosure and wait for the moths to emerge. These are the huge as-big-as-your-hand moths that only live for a few days after they come out of their cocoons. They don’t eat anything; they don’t even have mouth parts.
I’ve never had the Tobacco Hornworm pupae before, but I’ve seen them, and know enough about them that they need to be covered by some kind of substrate, so they don’t “explode” when the moth emerges. I have them in paper cups filled with excelsior. The excelsior is firm enough to contain the pupal cases, but light enough for the moths to climb up through it once they emerge. These are big moths, too, but not as large as the Polyphemus Moths. They DO have mouthparts, so I have to give them nectar until they’re ready to be released.
I’ll keep adding to this album as the critters evolve and emerge. #CalNat
I headed out to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge to check out the insects there before it got too hot this month. I want to take the Summer naturalist class out there next year. I was hoping to see a lot of dragonflies, but without the large pond, there were only a handful out flitting around. Next year, the pond should be refilled so with a bit of luck the insect populations should be better then.
This year, I’m hoping the other wetland areas will churn out more dragonflies and damselflies later in the season. I did get to see quite a few butterfly species, though.
CLICK HERE to see the album of photos.