Sunday, August 21, 2011

New Videos

Here are some new videos from Archie's Garden.

The first one is showing what's going on in the Butterfly Fort:

The next one is a very close-up view of a monarch egg hatching:

Monday, August 8, 2011

Getting Caterpillars for the Tent

You've seen the caterpillars' safe tent. We mentioned that the tent keeps out predators like wasps and ladybugs but also keeps away the monarch butterflies.

Since the adult butterflies can't lay eggs on the plants in the tent, we have to help out. Here are some pictures of how we get the caterpillars into the tent.
The leaves in the picture are from milkweed plants around the garden. If we notice an egg, we take the whole leaf from the plant, and bring it inside. We have a container with a damp paper towel, which keeps the leaf from wilting and drying up too quickly.

After a few days, the eggs have been hatching (two of the three we brought in, so far).

Out crawl the tiny caterpillars. Do you remember what they're called when they first emerge from their eggs? They're called "first instars." The number tells how many times they have shed their skins as they grow bigger. As you probably remember, monarch caterpillars shed their skins four times before they "J" and become pupas.

The caterpillar in these pictures is actually a second instar. He's already crawled around, eaten some small holes in the leaf, and shed once.

We think he's big enough, so we played the Pomp & Circumstances March, and took him out into the tent. We'll let you know how he does!

(you can click on any of the pictures to make them larger)

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Secure Caterpillar Zone

It's summer, and a great time to go camping! But hey, that tent may come in handy for other purposes too...

The wasps have proven persistent, relentless, and resourceful. They have found the weakness in the blue things: there has to be an opening in the container for the milkweed plant. The wasps have been able to sneak their ways in even through this tiny opening.

So here, we introduce our latest round of defenses: total containment. The milkweed plants are in pots, and the pots are inside a mesh tent. The mesh of the tent is very fine -- too small even for mosquitoes, much less wasps. The only openings have zippers, so the inside is safe.

Safe Inside
You might have already figured out the one problem with this setup -- if the milkweed is protected by something that won't let in anything, how will the monarch butterflies lay their eggs on the milkweed?

The answer to this question is that they can't. Instead, we have milkweed plants all around the garden. The butterflies lay eggs on those plants (we'll have another article here on Archie's Garden to talk about protecting the eggs).
When the eggs hatch, we carefully move the small caterpillars inside the tent, where they can grow safely on the protected plants inside.

It seems like they like it! Several of the caterpillars have already pupated on the mesh of the tent. Here's a picture of one of them.

In about ten days, when the butterflies eclose (come out of their pupas), we will unzip the tent flaps, and they will be able to fly away. We'll have pictures here!