Sunday, October 4, 2009

Dancing Queen

A few weeks ago, we found this Queen butterfly ovipositing on our milkweed. We were particularly excited, because Queens are rare visitors to My Florida Backyard, and to have one laying eggs was even better.

To protect these precious eggs from the hungry wasps, ants, and lizards, I quickly plucked them from the milkweed and brought them inside. A few days later, one hatched successfully:

Even at this very tiny stage, you can tell it's a Queen caterpillar and not a Monarch because of the third pair of "spikes" in the middle of the body. As the caterpillar grows and passes through later instars (stages), the differences between the two caterpillars become more pronounced.

This shows a Queen on the left and a Monarch on the right:

Within about a week, the caterpillar had finished chowing down on milkweed and had reached maximum size:
She went to work creating the silk pad to which she would attach herself, preparing to hang head down and transform into a chrysalis.
A Queen chrysalis is pretty much identical to a Monarch chrysalis - that beautiful waxy green flecked with gold. In about a week, the butterfly emerged and we released her in My Florida Backyard.
Her right forewing seemed just a little bit crumpled, even after several hours basking in the warm sun (a "lucky wing", perhaps?). Still, when the time came to fly off, she seemed to do just fine.
Yesterday afternoon, as I gathered some milkweed to feed a few remaining monarch caterpillars, a Queen butterfly danced around my head in the afternoon sun. Was it the same one I'd released into the breeze a few days ago? She didn't hold still long enough for me to get a good look, so there was no real way to tell. Still, I like to think she had come back to the garden where her mother had laid the egg that produced her, perhaps to lay eggs that would produce the next generations.

Life always seems to find a way in My Florida Backyard.

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