Tag Archives: monarch caterpillar

Monarch caterpillars are eating all the milkweed!

Did you know?

There are three sites in San Diego County where monarch butterflies overwinter, one in Grape Street Park in Balboa Park,  one in Presidio Park in Old Town San Diego State Historic Park, and one at the University of California San Diego Coast Site on Azul Street.

Surprisingly I have not been to any of them. Next winter….

Meanwhile, though, over at the Botanic Building in Balboa Park, there are two huge milkweed bushes at the entrances to the building. Monarchs, of course, love milkweed. On March 24, the bushes were full of monarch caterpillars, six just in this one picture:

Monarch butterfly caterpillars

By now those caterpillars probably have eaten every leaf on the plants and are nice and comfortable in their chrysalises. Here’s a fresh chrysalis from last year:

Chrysalis of a Monarch butterfly

As the chrysalises age, they turn brown.

Monarch caterpillar chrysalis, September 2011, San Diego

By Memorial Day the bushes will be full of monarch butterflies, flittering all about. Another picture from last year:

Monarch butterfly

Now, let’s learn how to tell the difference between a male monarch and a female.

Male monarchs have a black spot near the rear of each wing. Females don’t.

Here are two pictures to illustrate. The first picture is a male, the second a female. See the black spots on the male’s wings?



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Monarch—Caterpillar to butterfly (WARNING: graphic content)

Did you know?

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

I have a love/hate relationship with technology. I love it when it brings new knowledge into my little head, like the Internet and new genome techniques. I hate it when it tries to control my life, like cell phones and cable television.

Yesterday at dawn, I went to Balboa Park to get some “golden hour” pictures for my San Diego Historical Landmark El Prado series.

At the two entrances to the Botanical Building are two large bushes. They always look rather scraggly, like this from yesterday:

Scraggly bush at the entrance to the Botanical Building in San Diego's Balboa Park

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

They look like overgrown weeds, so adults tend to pass right by them. Children (my friends say that I’m a 10-year-old child trapped in a
59-year-old body) notice very quickly that these bushes are unique. Throughout the year one can find these little critters all over the two bushes:

Monarch caterpillar

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

Do you recognize that little one? Sure, it’s a caterpillar, but more importantly it’s the late stage (called an instar) of a monarch caterpillar. That little one is so big that it probably started pupating the moment I got my picture and left.

Here is a picture of one that is just beginning to pupate:

Pupating Monarch butterfly

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

If you see a caterpillar hanging upside down and curling up like that, take a look 24 hours later and you’ll probably see a chrysalis, also called a pupa. Looks like this:

Chrysalis of a Monarch butterfly

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

Keep an eye on that chrysalis for the next two weeks and you might be lucky to see a monarch butterfly emerge.

Monarch out of bounds

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

(If you’re interested in creating the “out of bounds” effect like above, see my post here: https://russelrayphotos2.com/2013/10/22/how-to-create-the-out-of-bounds-effect-in-photoshop/ .)

Most people know that the Monarch caterpillar feeds only on milkweeds but that plant in the red circle in the first picture does not look like any milkweed I’ve ever seen. In fact, it’s not a milkweed. According to the little sign at the bottom of each bush is this:

Calotropis gigantea

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

Sure enough, that’s not a milkweed.

Ah, but not so fast, grasshopper!

See what it says in the bottom left corner? Asclepiadaceae. That’s the subfamily. That’s where modern genetics and genetic coding (genome) comes into play. Except in the rarest of cases, we didn’t use to have subfamilies. This plant would have been noted as being in the Apocynaceae family, also known as dogbanes. Ah-ha! Guess what other plants are in the dogbane family? That’s right, boys and girls! Milkweed! Milkweed and this crown plant also are in the same Asclepiadaceae subfamily. That means they are very closely related, according to the folks decoding those genomes. That explains why the monarch butterfly loves this plant!

Although it is a scraggly bush, along with the monarch caterpillars, chrysalises, and butterflies, the flowers are very beautiful, albeit small and well camouflaged with the leaves. Flowers look like this:

Calotropis gigantea flowers

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

The Botanical Building, according to sources, is the most photographed building in San Diego, and when you’re casually traipsing through Balboa Park, you can’t possibly miss it. Looks like this:

Botanical Building in San Diego's Balboa Park

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

Lastly, in the second picture, you might have had problems (like I did!) determining which end of the caterpillar is the front end and which end is the back end. After looking at a goodly number of the caterpillars, I determined that the back end has shorter antennae. Of course, the back end also is the end that poops. Here is a caterpillar checking out its poop:

Monarch caterpillar and its poop

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

If you don’t like using words like crap, poop, and the S word, frass is a term we use in the home inspection industry. Frass is an informal and loose definition usually used when referring to the poop of insects. Since it is a loose and informal definition, I give you permission to use it when referring to human poop, now also known as human frass.

As I was trying to find out which end was the front end, I came across an interesting 39-second video on YouTube that pretty much confirmed my thinking:

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

Must be nice to be able to eat and poop at the same time! And on that note:


Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

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