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The Grail Bug

It was a good day in the garden. Saw a pickerel frog last night, saw a bunch of dragonflies this morning (none of which I can ID–what was the bright green one with the black bands on the tail? I can’t find it in the lists of North Carolina dragonflies. Who are those gigantic throwback-to-the-dinosaurs dragonflies cruising over the garden ten feet up?) only one of which held still long enough to photograph, nearly stepped on our local ruby-throated hummingbird, who is obsessed with my Texas sage, and then, just as I had ganked my knee trying to get a shot of a katydid nymph, I saw…it.

It was a monarch butterfly.

I didn’t know whether to squeal like a little girl or burst into tears (also possibly like a little girl) because we’ve never had one of those in the yard before. They’re in the area, but our yard was never of interest to them. And they’re like the holy grail of wildlife gardening…they’re one of those bugs that many of us suspect in our heart of hearts we’re gonna lose–they’re so specialized, and the chain of events that keeps them going is so bizarre and fragile–but there’s this tantalizing possibility that if all the gardeners pull together and plant the right plants–and nobody messes with the groves where they winter–we can form this network and make it work.

First I had to make sure it was really a monarch, not one of the mimics. I stalked it with the grace of an injured water buffalo, and finally managed to get close enough to see the harlequin spots covering the body before it took off again. I made squee noises again.

So the monarch flitted around the garden, and I chased after it with the camera. It landed on the Texas sage “Dark Dancer” and spent some time hanging from one of the red flowers (I vowed to plant ten more. No, twenty.) then transferred to the sundrops, which were also interesting (I vowed to extend the bed out two feet in every direction and plant nothing but Texas sage and sundrops.) shunned the pink petunia (I shun you as well, accursed annual!) inspected the daisy fleabane (when the revolution comes, you will be spared, fleabane) and finally spent a little time on the damp gravel driveway, inspecting the puddling possibilities (there will be no asphalt on my watch!)

I never did get my photo–it whirled away into the trees. I hope it’ll be back. My milkweed stand isn’t enough yet to host a caterpillar, but it will be someday. Check back, monarch! Send your grandkids! You’ll always be welcome!

Originally published at Squash's Garden. You can comment here or there.

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Yay!!! They're back.

My friends in Fargo have a couple of patches of milkweed in their garden especially for Monarchs which unfortunately have not been around much the past few years as Fargo has been spraying like crazy to keep the mosquito population down (Fargo is the Mosquito capital of North America or so it seems even Lewis and Clark commented on the dreadful skeeters).

When they find Monarch caterpillars they bring them inside to take care of so they won't be eaten or parasitized then release them when they hatch from their cocoons. There's nothing like holding a newly hatched Monarch in your hands while it figures out what's going on and eventually takes off. The whole process of metamorphosis that it undergoes is amazing.


My family moved from Fargo a while back and the summer was almost over before we realized it was safe to go outside after dark. XD

I miss butterflies. ;_;

We saw several bees on our walk to lunch today. One on the clover, one on the, uh, red fluffy[1] flowers near the neighbors mailbox. There is hope. Also, the husband has confirmed that household bees are in an entirely different category that chickens or guinea hens.

[1]I should know this. They're annuals and look like little fluffy brooms in assorted colors.

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Makes you want to get into butterfly farming doesn't it? A buddy of mine does it every other year and loves it.

Interesting how different your wildlife experience is from mine. You rescue turtles, I avoid roadrunners and armadillos and the occasional fox or lynx. And I've long since stopped noticing monarchs.

Oh Ursula, you're such a fangirl, and we love you for it. :)

At the right time of year I see maybe a dozen monarchs a day.

Though the number I used to see as a kid has dropped considerably.

I'll always remember the time one of my grandmother's bushes in her backyard was taken over by monarchs. So cool.

I see a LOT of Monarchs migrating, ESPECIALLY in the Fall. They DO LOVE Milkweed, so keep it planted.

the really large dragonfly is most likely some sort of darner. they come in a bewildering variety of types and don't land much. And even with photos they're hard to id (the marks on the throax are the best indicater). My roomie is a dragonfly afficianado so if you get a good photos send it to me and we might be able to id it.

It may be a sign that I've been reading this journal way too long that for a split second I read this as "dragonfly avocado".

That grasshopper looked rather avocado-ish.

Most years we'll spot them but only get a couple caterpillars, but last year was crazy- we had almost 30 little ones crowding our milkweed and once they ate it all I went on expeditions to fallow areas picking leaves (after making sure I wasn't taking them away from some other little caterpillar) to feed the babies ^___^ Most of them made it through and we got to send about 20 little new butterflies out into the world at the end of the season. It was wonderful.

Dragonfly update. Marg \(my roomie) says the bright green one with the black banks on the tail is most likely a female Eastern Pondhawk. They're lovely!And don't you love dragonfly names. Our favourite is the Stygian shadowdragon. What a name!

Edited at 2010-05-26 09:44 pm (UTC)

That's it! Yes! Wow! (Dang, she's good!) Adding Eastern Pondhawk to the yard list!

Yes, we get Monarchs around here. Also Painted Ladies (a fairly drab mimic).

You really wanna see monarchs, there's a eucalyptus grove over in Santa Cruz that is on the monarch migratory flight path. You can go there and see *thousands* of them at the right times. Dab a bit of honey on one's fingertip and you can make some fluttery friends.

Squee! I love (and miss) Monarchs.

Check back, monarch! Send your grandkids!

Great-great-grandkids :-p

Edited at 2010-05-26 10:28 pm (UTC)

On an off-topic -

...I just got my copy of Nurk in the mail today! Squee! I am going to be reading it to my fiance's 5yo daughter this weekend. :) I have already read it, and I love it!

I always thought Monarchs were a NZ thing - when I lived there as a kid, we had a milkweed in my primary school and always lots of monarchs around it - we did the whole capture-a-caterpillar and watch it grow up thing, once. They were also hanging around my grandparents' place, saw a few chrysalises there. Haven't seen anywhere as many of them now I live in Australia.

They've always been my absolute favourite butterfly. :)

I had no idea they'd wandered into Australia and New Zealand! (Wikipedia informs me they've been there at least a hundred years. Wacky!) That is so cool!

Yeah, we get them fairly regularly. Not often in huge numbers - the time they decided that the part of one of our eucalypts that was oozing sap was the Best Thing Evar stands out in my mind - but when it's warm enough, you can usually see one or two if you sit outside in my parents yard long enough.

*nods* they're common as mud here in Perth, Western Australia every year, too. But they don't migrate. Tough little buggers, too - I'll hit them in my van at 100kph, and when I stop they pry themselves loose and fly off.

*joins the chorus of Kiwi monarch-watchers* We grew milkweed in the yard one year when I was little and had a great time watching the stripy caterpillars. :D I live in Australia now, though - must check to see if I'm in an area where they can live, I haven't seen them...

Ursula, if you haven't guessed yet, a) your readership is FULL of fellow nerds and, b) we're ALL so proud of you!

Dude...we get craploads of Monarchs around here. But then, my part of Texas is right one the edge of the central flyway for their migration to Mexico. And my mother is a plant addict. So I see lots of them. It never occured to me that they were rare. Heh.
Of course, the only other butterflies I ever see are those dang introduced small whites (or small cabbage) butterflies, which have a tendency to fly right into my face.


When I was young, we always used to have herons stop by our garden pond. I miss the herons.

OK, not quite the same oevre as butterflies, but then variety of insect life has never been the strong point of our locale. It was a long time before I realised that 'butterflies' weren't always browny-red (red admirals and tortoiseshells).

We used to have both damsels and dragonflies - still do, but not to the same extent. And loads of newts, and sometimes grass snakes. A lot of the decline is the deteriorated condition of our pond now, but a lot is also general environmental damage. I hardly ever even see herons in the air, now, let alone in our garden.


not anonymous just not a frequent poster - Jinx here :) ... anyway
lived most of my life in San Luis Obispo County where there are two groves used by the monarchs as stopping off places on the annual Mexico migration - the Morro Bay state park eucalyptus grove, and the Oso Flaco dunes eucalyptus grove - have had the great pleasure to see them in their millions hanging from the leaves like tiny orange exotic plants. My husband and I spent part of our engagement time helping to build a walkway through the Oso Flaco dunes that would protect the environment at the same time as allowing visitors to see the groves up close. They truly are a treasure worth saving and I hope you get to visit one of the groves someday. :)

My mother is a devoted butterfly-lover, and she commissioned my father to build her a wood and plastic mesh butterfly hutch. When she finds caterpillars, especially monarchs, she puts them in the hutch with the appropriate plants. Some years she's had to make multiple trips to the nursery for more milkweeds, as the caterpillars completely stripped them. The caterpillars tend to anchor their pupae to the ceiling of the hutch, and when the butterflies emerge, she waits for their wings to inflate to full strength, then opens the door. Of course, many of the plants in her yard are chosen for their butterfly (and hummingbird) attracting properties.

A quick note about the yard - My grandfather designed the house where my parents now live (in Gulf Hills, Mississippi, near Biloxi), and hired a construction company owned by our cousins to build it. When my grandmother insisted on leaving part of the back yard in its natural state, nobody argued. That section has never been clear cut, and only dead trees that could fall on the house have been removed. From that point on, the birdwatching at the house has been excellent. Grandma was a birdwatcher and a skilled gardener, and my Mom is now following in her footsteps. I don't garden, but I always have plants at home and at work. All those hours of mandatory digging in Grandma's garden definitely left their mark on me.


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