The theme for Lens-Artists Photo Challenge #180 is Favorite Images of 2021
The year 2021 was a roller coaster. There were many excitements because we could resume doing things after being restricted for a year or longer. Those moments seemed serene yet felt like wanting to shout for joy. Those were my favorite images of 2021.
My younger granddaughter was born on March 22, 2020. California reinforced the restriction on March 14. I canceled my flight at the last minute to be with my daughter for her childbirth. By March 2021, the restriction of traveling eased a little. We wanted to be there for Nora’s first birthday. I booked the flight with premium seats so that we didn’t have to pass by many passengers. We were so thrilled to see Nora for the first time.
We spent Mother’s Day with my daughter every year except the year 2020. In 2021, we were with my daughter for Mother’s Day and had a wonderful time having three generations of girls together.
The summer of 2021 was my first-time raising Monarch butterflies and there were some casualties, but 20 butterflies made it to adulthood.
I booked a trip to Banff, Canada in August for our anniversary, but the border was closed. I canceled the trip, and we went to Santa Barbara instead. It was the first long trip since Covid.
We also wanted to take day trips to the beaches, but many beaches were closed during the pandemic. We eventually made a trip to Laguna Beach in September.
We missed Autumn’s 3rd birthday in 2020 but we were excited to go to Autumn’s 4th birthday party in September last year.
Last but not the least, we had a white Christmas with my daughter’s family and had fun watching the grandkids playing in the snow and making a snowperson in the backyard. Autumn helped to put the pebbles on to make the eyes and buttons and put the carrot on for the nose. Nora gave the snowperson a big hug.
I bought two butterfly cages, used the first one for the first seven caterpillars and the second one for the next collection of ten caterpillars. I put potted milkweed in the cages to feed them. The caterpillar takes 9 to 14 days from the egg to pupate.
When the first caterpillar in Cage #1 circled around the edge of the pot, I thought it tried to escape. I put it back on the plant several times. I realized it was looking for a spot to pupate. I cut a piece of thin bamboo to connect from the soil to the top. It took no time for the little guy to find the bamboo to crawl up. It stayed in one spot but kept moving around for a day. Finally, it settled at a spot close to the wire that shapes the cage.
Is the mesh too soft, and it didn’t feel safe? I found a piece of heavier mesh to make a cage top. The rest of the caterpillars seems to like it and settled quicker to pupate.
Just before it pupates, the caterpillar spins a silk mat from which it hangs upside down by its last pair of prolegs. As it sheds its skin for the last time, the caterpillar stabs a stem into the silk mat to hang.
The second cage had about ten caterpillars. I didn’t have enough milkweed to feed them. It takes about two 4-inch pots of milkweed to feed one caterpillar. All my young plants combined would feed two. This is my first year raising butterflies and didn’t want to leave the caterpillars to die. After checking on the options, I bought one 1-gallon and three 4-inch pots of milkweed available at a nearby nursery. I transplanted them into one pot to feed the little guys.
The first week of the caterpillars was like a one-year-old baby who just learned to walk and disappeared constantly. By the second week, they get fat with darker colors. During the last few days before pupating, they cling on to the plant, munching ferociously, which reminded me of the children’s book, The Hungry Caterpillar.
I went to visit my granddaughters on June 16. The second day after I arrived, the first butterfly emerged. My husband sent me a photo. It was exciting to see the first butterfly made its way through the journey. After arriving home on June 22, I witnessed the rest of the chrysalides turned into beautiful butterflies.
The first flights of the monarch. They landed on somewhere for a few seconds before taking off.
I now understand the reason only 2% of the caterpillars made it to become butterflies. They can perish at any stage during the four stages: egg, caterpillar, chrysalis, and butterfly.
Eggs and Caterpillar: Can disappear or die.
Chrysalis: Four chrysalides seemed to be too small for the wings to grow inside and died.
Adult Butterfly: One butterfly almost didn’t make it because after it emerged, the wings couldn’t extend all the way when they opened. It continued to practice and crawled up and up the cage for 24 hours instead of a few hours. It finally flew away.
I examined my photos, it seemed I raised more male than female butterflies. Male butterfly has black dots on the hind wings whereas the female has thicker black veins. The following photos: the first one is a female and the second one is a male.
As I was writing this article on my front porch, there were two butterflies fluttering up and down and around visiting the flowers in the front yard.
There have been excitements every day since I discovered the monarch caterpillars nine days ago. It felt like I just adopted new pets and learned how to care for them. Checking on the caterpillars and collecting babies became my new morning routine.
As soon as I discovered the baby creatures, I went around the fourteen milkweed plants to find caterpillars and eggs, stuck the popsicle sticks next to the plants and marked the number of babies or eggs on each plant.
The next day after the discovery, one bigger caterpillar, hung crisscross on a leaf, died. The biggest one about 1/2” long was missing. I could only think of the birds, lizards, or other insects just had a delightful meal.
My research showed only 2% of the caterpillars in the wild made it into butterflies. The 98% vanished by the harsh nature. One way to save some caterpillars is to raise them in the butterfly cages. One website recommended separating the bigger caterpillars from the babies because the bigger ones may eat the babies.
There are different types and sizes of butterfly cages. Sellers ask for different prices on the same sizes of the cages. It seems to be reasonable to have two cages, so I ordered two of the 15”x15”x36” white cages on Amazon and would like to have them as soon as possible. My husband has Prime Membership for the next-day delivery, so I asked him to order them for me.
Guess what? It was Memorial Day weekend. The delivery was on the following Tuesday, June 2, four days after the order. I couldn’t leave the babies out in the open for the birds or lizards to snap them. In fact, I saw two babies dropped on the soil crawling away.
It was Friday afternoon. I rushed to the fabric section in Walmart and got one yard of white mash. Then I transplanted one milkweed from the ground to the pot, collected all the baby caterpillars, put them in the potted plant and wrapped the pot with the white mash. I got the idea from watching the YouTube on how to make an easy home-made butterfly cage.
After that, I watched how the bigger and smaller caterpillars settled in the wrapped plant. To my horror, I saw one bigger caterpillar with a baby in its mouth! Good thing one website forewarned me. I went to Walmart and got another yard of white mash, repeated the transplanting and transferring to separate the bigger and littler ones. I wished to say to the bigger guy, “Be nice to your baby sister!”
It was a lot of work that day, but I slept better knowing the caterpillars were safe.
The cages arrived on June 2, and I wasted no time to move the two pots of milkweed into the new homes. The pots looked small in the roomy cages. It would have been okay, except the caterpillars were continually crawling. One website calls them escapers. The next day, several of them escaped from the plants and dropped to the bottoms of the cages.
I remembered the butterfly kit with the caterpillars in a sealed container. To contain those wigglers, I inserted several letter-size transparencies into the soil around the edge of the 6” pot to form a shield. Yet there was another problem again. The shield was like a tube, and several wigglers crawled up. They could crawl out and fall again.
Oh, no! More work! I put the crawlers into a container with a lid, transplanted the milkweed into a 5-gallon pot and built a large shield around it.
There is no guarantee to protect all the caterpillars. There are seven bigger ones in one cage and about ten babies in another cage. It takes 10 to 14 days for the caterpillars to become full grown, about 2 3/8” long. A monarch caterpillar sheds its skin five times during the larval stage. Similar to the way a snake sheds its skin when its body has outgrown the skin. When the caterpillar is full grown, it sheds its skin one last time to form the chrysalis, or cocoon, and go into the pupa stage of metamorphosis.
I learned a lot about how to care for the monarch caterpillars. In the meantime, I’ll grow more Narrowleaf milkweed and will be more prepared next summer when the monarch butterflies return. I had one Showy milkweed. The babies munched on that plant the first few days have lighter colors and grow slower. The rest of the caterpillars were eggs on the Narrowleaf milkweed and ate only from Narrowleaf milkweed. They are healthier and have brighter colors. I put the cut Showy milkweed leaves in the pots, but the caterpillars don’t munch on them. So, I’ll stick with growing only Narrowleaf milkweed.
Please stay tuned for the monarch journey in my garden.
I have overlooked my garden for many weeks. This afternoon, I did some gardening. In the late spring last year, I renewed the interest to save as many Monarch butterflies as possible by planting some Milkweed plants from seeds. By the time the seeds germinated, it was autumn, and the planted didn’t grow too much without the sun.
Early spring this year a few plants came back. I thought the rest of them died. Just when I wanted to plant something else in the same spots, the plants showed signs of growth. Two of them are about eight inches tall, and the rest of them are from two to six inches tall.
There is a monarch butterfly flying around and occasionally I saw it resting on the milkweed plants. I was happy that the monarch recognized the plants but expected to see some caterpillars in the summer when the plants get taller.
I planted the Showy milkweed and the Narrowleaf milkweed last year. When the plants grew back this year, they all have narrow leaves. In the middle of the flower bed, there is a plant with broad leaves. I don’t remember planting anything with broad leaves. This afternoon I wanted to transplant the yellow Lantanas that the butterflies like, close to the milkweed. I dug up this broad leaf plant and transplanted it into another spot. As I pressed to the soil around the plant, I spotted two caterpillars.
Oh, no, this is a Showy milkweed with broad leaves. I planted many but only this one grew. I quickly moved the plant back to the original position, but it went through a shock and the leaves were drooping. The caterpillars are doing fine.
I proceeded to check on seven or eight plants, and six of them have tiny caterpillars on them! Oh wow! That’s incredible! There are about a dozen caterpillars.
I couldn’t contain my excitement. I have been waiting for this moment for an entire year. But wait a minute, how can these little guys survive? The plants won’t sustain them through the second or third week and they will die.
The following images 1 to 4 are Narrow Leaf milkweed, and image 5 is the only Showy milkweed.
I quickly did my research, found a “Save the Monarch” website, and asked them how to raise the monarch. After further research, I came across some alternative food for the monarch because of the shortage of milkweed. One common food used to feed the caterpillar is butternut squash. But vegetable doesn’t have the nutrients of the milkweed. I will do some more research this evening on alternative food.
My fun journey of raising the monarch butterflies has just begun!