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Posts Tagged Wildlife

Monthly Science: Raising a Monarch Butterfly

A Monarch butterfly laid eggs in late July. On the 29th of July they looked like this:

Monarch Egg - focus stacked

Monarch Egg – focus stacked

By August 2, a pair of caterpillars had hatched and grew to 3 mm:

Monarch caterpillar - 3 mm - 2017-08-02

Monarch caterpillar – 3 mm – 2017-08-02

A day later, they were 4 mm long:

Monarch caterpillars - 4 mm - 2017-08-03

Monarch caterpillars – 4 mm – 2017-08-03

They really were sort of blue-ish with green hints:

Monarch caterpillar 1 - 4 mm - 2017-08-03

Monarch caterpillar 1 – 4 mm – 2017-08-03

And:

Monarch caterpillar 2 - 4 mm - 2017-08-03

Monarch caterpillar 2 – 4 mm – 2017-08-03

By August 9, one had had more mature coloration:

Monarch caterpillar - 2017-08-09

Monarch caterpillar – 2017-08-09

The other caterpillar had vanished; we assume it got out of the aquarium and wandered off.

Apparently, the front end of the caterpillar (at the bottom of the picture) has a hard windshield reflecting the ring of LEDs around the camera lens. The caterpillar eats its skin after each molting, except for the windshield:

Monarch Windshield - 2017-08-09

Monarch Windshield – 2017-08-09

We kept fresh milkweed branches in a vase and the caterpillar ate almost continuously:

Monarch caterpillar - 2017-08-13

Monarch caterpillar – 2017-08-13

By August 15, the caterpillar was ready for the next stage in its life. At 10 in the morning it had attached itself to the screen covering the aquarium and assumed the position:

Monarch caterpillar - starting chrysalis - 2017-08-15

Monarch caterpillar – starting chrysalis – 2017-08-15

It transformed into a chrysalis by 5:30 PM:

Monarch Chrysalis - with skin

Monarch Chrysalis – with skin

The discarded skin remained loosely attached until I carefully removed it.

What look like small yellow spots are actually a striking metallic gold color.

Eleven days later, on August 26 at 9 AM, the chrysalis suddenly became transparent:

Monarch chrysalis - ready - left

Monarch chrysalis – ready – left

And:

Monarch chrysalis - ready - right

Monarch chrysalis – ready – right

The shape of the butterfly becomes visible in reflected light:

Monarch chrysalis - ready - ventral detail

Monarch chrysalis – ready – ventral detail

The gold dots and line remained visible.

The magic happened at 3 PM:

Monarch chrysalis - emerging - unfolding

Monarch chrysalis – emerging – unfolding

The compacted wings emerge intense orange on the top and lighter orange on the bottom:

Monarch unfolding - left

Monarch unfolding – left

The butterfly took most of the day to unfurl and stiffen its wings into flat plates:

Monarch unfolding - dorsal

Monarch unfolding – dorsal

And:

Monarch unfolding - right

Monarch unfolding – right

By 8 PM it began exploring the aquarium:

Monarch unfolded - right

Monarch unfolded – right

As adults, they sip nectar from flowers, but don’t feed for the first day, so we left it in the aquarium overnight.

At 10 AM on August 27, we transported it to the goldenrod in the garden, where it immediately began tanking operations:

Monarch on Milkweed - left

Monarch on Milkweed – left

A few minutes later, it began sun-warming operations:

Monarch on Milkweed - dorsal

Monarch on Milkweed – dorsal

Mary watched it while she was tending the garden and, an hour or so later, saw it take off and fly over the house in a generally southwest direction. It will cross half the continent under a geas prohibiting any other action, eventually overwinter in Mexico with far too few of its compadres, then die after producing the eggs for a generation beginning the northward journey next year.

Godspeed, little butterfly, godspeed …

In the spirit of “video or it didn’t happen”, there’s a 15 fps movie of the emergence taken at 5 s/image.

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Groundhog in the Compost Bin

Mary confronted this critter in the garden, whereupon it fled into the compost bin:

Groundhog in the compost bin - front

Groundhog in the compost bin – front

She barricaded it with spare tomato cages across the bin’s entrance, I wedged an aluminum sheet behind the cages, and we got the stinkeye for our efforts:

Groundhog in the compost bin - left

Groundhog in the compost bin – left

I deployed the hose, watered it for a few minutes, and we left it to consider its options. Groundhogs are pretty much waterproof, but we hoped the wetdown would be sufficiently unpleasant to mark the garden as “Here be dragons” in its mental map.

After an hour, it had vanished. We know from past experience that groundhogs can climb up-and-over the chain link fence surrounding the compost bin (it was a dog pen for the previous owners), although it knocked down the aluminum sheet and may have exited through the garden.

It looks well-fed and ready for winter.

Searching for groundhog will reveal previous encounters with its ancestors & relatives.

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Mystery Eggs on Glass

An array of tiny eggs appeared on the outside of our bedroom window:

Insect eggs on glass - 2017-09-17

Insect eggs on glass – 2017-09-17

The patch measures 12 mm across and 14 mm tall. From across the room, it looks like a smudge, but it consists of hundreds of eggs, each on a tiny stalk glued to the glass:

IMG_20170919 vs 0917- Insect eggs on glass

IMG_20170919 vs 0917- Insect eggs on glass

The bottom image is two days later than the top one, both are scaled to about the same size and contrast. The critters look about the same, although I think the lines have more prominent ripples or bumps.

We have no idea what they’ll turn into, but they certainly look like they have two eyes and wings …

 

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Monthly Image: Orb-Weaving Spider

Once again, the season of orb-weaving spiders has arrived, with this one building her web across a living room window:

Orb Weaving Spider - with insect

Orb Weaving Spider – with insect

I set the Sony HDR-AS30V atop a tripod, told it to take photos at 5 second intervals, then stitched the images into a Youtube video. It won’t go viral, but watching the spider construct her web over the course of two hours was fascinating.

She finishes the spiral at about 1 m video = 1.25 h real time, settles down for what might be a nap (it’s hard to tell with spiders), and has an insect join her for supper at 1:28, half an hour later. Spiders go from “inert” to “death incoming” almost instantly, even in real time running.

Another orb weaver set up shop in the adjacent window, but moved out the next day. Perhaps there’s a minimum spacing requirement?

Two more orb weavers guard windows in the kitchen and laundry room. We sometimes leave the lights on for them.

YouTube has other web-building videos with far more detail, of course.

The magic incantation to create the video from a directory of images in the form DSC01234.JPG:

sn=1 ; for f in *JPG ; do printf -v dn 'dsc%04d.jpg' "$(( sn++ ))" ; mv $f $dn ; done
ffmpeg -r 15 -i /mnt/video/2017-09-03/100MSDCF/dsc%04d.jpg -q 1 Orb-Weaving-2017-09-03.mp4

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Turkey Vultures on a Rainy Day

These vultures decided to hang out high atop our neighbor’s tree during a recent day-long rainstorm:

Turkey Vultures - rainy day

Turkey Vultures – rainy day

There may be a third vulture on the branch behind the big clump of pine cones near the trunk.

This seems about as disgusted as a vulture can appear:

Turkey Vultures - rainy day - detail

Turkey Vultures – rainy day – detail

I think that’s a young vulture, without the red face of more mature specimens.

They spent most of the day there, then flew off about their business. We’re sure they spent most of the next day drying out.

Taken with the (new-to-me) DSC-H5 and 1.7× teleadapter; no extra charge for the purple fringes.

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Mystery Caterpillar Revealed: Spilosoma virginica

The Mystery Caterpillars emerged from their cocoons over the course of several days, whereupon we finally identified them as Yellow Bear caterpillars who became Virginia Tiger Moths.

Moth 1, with wonderful antenna fringes identifying him as a male:

Spilosoma virginica 1 - right

Spilosoma virginica 1 – right

Moth 2, a female with smaller antenna:

Spilosoma virginica 2 - right

Spilosoma virginica 2 – right

Moth 3, another male:

Spilosoma virginica 3 - dorsal

Spilosoma virginica 3 – dorsal

The underside is diagnostic (ignore the crud on the aquarium glass):

Spilosoma virginica 3 - ventral

Spilosoma virginica 3 – ventral

We set each one on the goldenrod plant inside the garden gate, whereupon they charged up in the sun for an hour or so, then flew off about their business. They may eat a few leaves in the garden, but they’re not particularly harmful to anything and entitled to a peaceful life.

I must organize all their pictures into a life history.

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Buck Season

This eight-pointer was one of two browsing in the back-yard grove:

Eight point buck deer in velvet

Eight point buck deer in velvet

The other was a mere four-pointer. In a few weeks they’ll get all feisty and browse the grove in shifts.

The notion of a “suburban hunting license”, perhaps with crossbows, may eventually gain traction.

A few days later, Mary awoke to a great clattering caused by a buck fighting free of the slot between the garden’s mesh “deer fence” and the neighbor’s wood fence, flattening the corner post in the process. A similar encounter a few years ago ended poorly.

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