Of butterflies and weeds

MBrealSo here is the real Monarch caterpillar chewing on an orange Butterfly Weed. The butterfly that laid the egg on the weed was born in the southern United States of Mexican parentage, destined to make little caterpillars in the northern states before returning to dust. This one is extraordinary. It will fly all the way back to Mexico to overwinter with other butterflies — in clusters that can be heavy enough to break tree limbs. Imagine anything about a butterfly that could be “heavy”…

I also discovered, from the Missouri Department of Conservation, that Monarchs, in all their life stages, are poisonous to potential predators. Milkweeds carry toxins that transfer in various toxicities to the insects — signaled by their distinctive orange and black color, of course.

I have discovered, beautiful as they are, Monarchs are extraordinarily strong and dangerous. I’ve been thinking of a lot of goofy farm parallels, but best leave it alone… It’s nice to have flashy, flighty visitors beginning from so far away every year.

Wrong Caterpillar!

swallowtailI just discovered — what I thought were Monarch caterpillars (in previous post) are really Eastern Swallowtails. My mistake — still, do have a few Monarch caterpillars who are on the right plants in the garden.

The “horns” are biggest give-away. When you bother the little creatures, they pop out scary orange protuberances. They also like herbaceous plants — fennel in particular.

Thanks to Texas Butterfly Ranch and photographer Monika Maeckle for clarity and great demo!

Life Happening

Fall is full of life around here! We have four little calves, or more, on the ground right now. Dennis found twins yesterday — and a young mother that looked like she needed help getting their twin motors going. He coaxed her up to the barn with babies on the Mule (as in Kawasaki) and made sure they had a good dose of colostrum for their first day out.

Cows don’t often have twins, but when they do, they bear watching. Often the mother will reject one for practical survival reasons. It may be an instinct to mother the stronger one that chases her around for milk — and she simply forgets the other one. Often a cow will aggressively reject one. That happened last year.

Sometimes you can “graft” a rejected twin to another cow that may have lost her calf — if the timing works out. That happened last year, too. One calf though became our baby. Google got personal, bottled attention every day for three months!

MonarchMassOther things are happening. A surprising number of wildflowers wait all summer to bloom in the fall. And Monarch Butterfly caterpillars appear. I have orange butterfly weeds in the garden that often attract the winged ones, but this year they chose my Italian parsley for a veritable brood nest! They have taken all the leaves and are munching away on the stems now. I may try to get them onto the orange weeds so they don’t run out of food! If I can transplant their munching, maybe I will be rewarded. It’s hard to discover chrysalises, but maybe this year…