Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Autumn's Sulphur Butterflies

Ever since we planted our milkweed patch to foster the local monarch population, other butterflies seem to be hanging out in greater numbers too. We don't know if it's because the presence of monarchs signals a safe haven for butterflies--or they just like to party--but we've definitely seen more swallowtails, skippers, and cabbage flies around. Now, with the blooming of our cassia tree out back, we've had an influx of bright-yellow sulphurs.

Despite efforts to prop it up, our cassia tree has been leaning more each year and it's clear it will fall over soon. We look forward to its bright yellow flowering every fall so we've kept it. We also hoped we'd attract more Cloudless Sulphur butterflies, since cassia is their host plant.

Sure enough, we've had lots of pairs fluttering around this week as the tree bloomed, and today I was able to photograph a female laying her eggs.

Cloudless Sulphur and cassia blossoms
As you can see, the sulphurs have developed camouflage to blend in perfectly with cassia flowers. Neat, huh? When they flutter around, they look like little flying autumn leaves.

In an odd coincidence (or perhaps a caterpillar publicity stunt) we noticed this lady/fellow latched onto the bottom of our screen door sill this morning, just a couple feet from where our first monarch pupated for the camera:

Cloudless Sulphur caterpillar
Though it mystified us at first, this turns out to be a sulphur caterpillar! Did this guy think yellow butterflies needed equal time? Anyway, looks like he'll be hanging around for a little while, ahem, and we're happy to oblige with a little social-media mention.

We have no idea what the chrysalis will look like or how long it will take to emerge, so this will be a learning experience for us here at Archie's Garden....stay tuned! 

P.S.: Would anyone like to suggest a name?

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Video with Mar Vista Monarch Maven Loree Bryer!

There wouldn't be an Archie's Garden without Loree Bryer, our local citizen scientist who singlehandedly brought monarch gardening to Mar Vista. Check out this video from The Late Bloomer Show featuring Loree and her garden, and learn a few new things about monarchs (I didn't know about the "egg timer"!) You can also learn to be a "citizen scientist" by signing up with the Monarch Larva Monitoring Project.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Archie-Inspired Art Gifted to the Garden!

Just a quick post to thank our new friend Joseph for the cool and colorful garden stake he made for the garden. It's now installed in the succulent boxes on the back of our gazing bench, overlooking the milkweed patch. Joseph went home with some seeds, a milkweed plant, and a spare caterpillar (also named "Archie") and we hope we will hear some happy progress reports soon.

Joseph also just "Liked" Archie's Facebook page too, and posted some questions; you can do the same at

Thanks again Joseph...and happy growing!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Fluttering Things

As Summer roars along, Archie's Butterfly Fort is full of activity. A few weeks ago, we noticed a lot of wasps in the area again, and, at the same time, some of our milkweed plants had monarch eggs and caterpillars.
Potter's Wasp Nests
(Eumenes bollii)
A Great Golden Digger Wasp
(Sphex ichnneumoneus)
The milkweed plants that were in pots got moved into the Butterfly Fort. We were surprised how many caterpillars were in there. The plants got eaten down to bare sticks, and the top of the tent filled up with J-ing caterpillars and chrysalids. Over the last week, we've been having several eclosures every day.
June 16th
June 30th
(with the camera at a funny angle).
The garden has been full of fluttering things. Sometimes, three or four Monarchs will be patrolling at the same time, often chasing each other around. But they're not the only butterflies. Here are a few things we've seen lately:

Monarch on Lantana

Marine Blue on Cuphea

Mourning Cloak on Easter Lily
When I was looking to take a picture of the Marine Blue, a small skipper landed on my finger. It was vibrating its wings very quickly. Another skipper noticed the one sitting on my finger, and zoomed back and forth in a frantic aerobatic dance. I had my camera taking pictures at its fastest speed (almost five pictures per second), but the skipper was much to fast. Here is just over one second's worth of pictures:


Last, but not least, here's a picture that I call The Battle of the Budlea (that's the name of the purple flower). It wasn't really a battle, since there's plenty of flowers to go around, but the way the picture turned out, it looked to me like the bee was being chased away by the butterfly.

It's Mine, All Mine!

(As always, you can click on the pictures to make them bigger)

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Spring continues in Archie's Garden

This honey bee is having fun playing with its food. The roses are always popular with the bees, although the sweet peas are also a favorite.

This monarch pupated on the back of this lattice. There was some very cold weather before she emerged, and then she emerged around twilight. The night was pretty cold, and the next day, she crawled around on the lattice for a while before we moved her out to some milkweed. She took it very slowly, only fluttering off after many hours.

This white cluster of flowers is Yarrow (Achillea), and it also is popular among the bees.

This big character is a carpenter bee. It may look like a bumble bee, but it's a different kind of large bee. It sounds like a small helicopter when flying by. We have seen people frightened by them when they visit Archie's Garden, probably because these carpenter bees are so big and loud. There's no reason to be afraid, though, because they're friendly, and very rarely sting people.

Bees aren't the only ones who like sweet peas! This Archie is taking a rest between patrolling expeditions around the garden.

As you can see in the picture on the right, this Airabella has been though some rough times. Her left wing has been battered, and there's even a hole right though it. She was still managing to fly around, though, and was laying eggs on the milkweed!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Alligators and Keeled-Over Cats!

Archie and Daphne, April 2012

There's a whole crop of new photos on our Archie's Garden Facebook page in the album called Spring Is Sproinged, where you can see lots of flowers and exciting novelties like an "occupied" bird feeder, a rare alligator lizard sighting, and of course this thrilling photo of a napping cat (with a newly eclosed Archie looking on from a milkweed plant.)

Keep an eye out for more posts soon, including photos of our milkweed sprouting project. Milkweed grows slowly; it's not easy keeping up with the never-ending demands of hungry monarch caterpillars without dropping lots of money at the nursery. In an upcoming post we'll show you how we're trying to solve that problem; in the meantime, give our Facebook page a "Like" if you want to receive the latest updates in your News Feed. 

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Need To Tidy Those Drooping Daffodil Leaves?

Now that the narcissus and daffodils have finished blooming, their lazy leaves are drooping all over the place and causing a slip/trip hazard in the garden. What can you do? You can't just cut them off--the bulbs need those leaves to absorb energy for next year's bloom. Wurra wurra wurra.

We have an easy answer, one we saw along the garden paths at Newgrange in County Meath, Ireland. Unfortunately we don't have any photos from Ireland, but we'll show you how to tie your own Newgrange Knots in this one-minute video. Enjoy, and Happy Spring!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

February in Archie's Garden

The weather has been swinging from hot to cold, and Archie's Garden is a little confused. Some plants have just finished dropping their leaves for Winter, and some Spring flowers are already blooming.

Damaged Pupa
As we wrote in January, the Monarchs don't seem to have let the weather interfere with their activities. We still have caterpillars at all stages.

We've had a number of pupae turn brown suddenly, and apparently die. It's not the normal darkening that happens just before the butterfly emerges - it's sometimes streaked brown, or sometimes solid brown. We're not sure if this is caused by disease or by some kind of parasite. Many of these darkened pupae have holes in them that might support the parasite theory. It could also be that a very cold night kills the pupa, and the discoloration happens later.

Despite the heat and the cold, we're still having Monarchs make it all the way from egg to butterfly. It has been nice and sunny today, and we had a butterfly emerge today. She had pupated in the back yard in the first week of January. The pictures below are of her and her journey to the front garden.

Relocating on Gooseplant

Wings Drying
Stare into my eyes...

We were expecting the Winter to be a much slower month for the butterflies. We have heard different things about Monarchs migrating in Southern California, but we expected them to migrate away or at least stop laying eggs until Springtime. We were wrong! Because we still have so many caterpillars, some of the milkweed has not recovered from the last generations.
Several of the milkweed plants appear to be weakened or ailing, and the orange milkweed aphids are infesting them in great number. Since we know there will be a lot more caterpillars coming once the weather really warms up, we're putting milkweed production into high gear!
Milkweed Aphids

Milkweed Farming

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Monarchs in Winter

We've been having typical Southern California winter weather: within a single week, we will have nights where it freezes, nights with heavy fog, and days ranging from 50 degrees to 70 degrees days.

On sunny days, we'll have monarchs in Archie's Garden -- sunning themselves on the milkweed, nectaring on flowers, and laying eggs just like it was summer. We have a lot of caterpillars! The milkweed doesn't seem to be able to grow fast enough to keep up with them.
Most of the caterpillars seem to be surviving even the freezing temperatures. In the early morning, before the sun warms them up, they can be found in strange positions on leaves, or even fallen down onto the pavement. Although they appear dead, they start behaving normally when the sun shines on them.
Dead? Nope, just cold!
These two guys look like they're frozen, but they're just waiting to warm up, and then they'll go back to eating.

We are still having caterpillars pupate. During this cold weather, the pupae are taking much longer to become butterflies -- we had one emerge yesterday after being in the Butterfly Fort for several months! This also is related to the temperature, we think. The pupae that are in sunny areas become butterflies faster than the ones in the shade.
This one took its time!

We're also seeing a larger number of caterpillars who don't pupate successfully, or pupae that are dying. It could be the cold, but there could also be disease. There have recently been a number of caterpillars who died suddenly, with symptoms that match those described on this page, and could be Nuclear polyhedrosis virus (NPV).