Category Archives: art

Raising Swallowtails: From Egg to Butterfly

I had so much fun raising Monarch butterflies for an outreach event a couple months ago, I decided to repeat the process with another type of butterfly- the Anise Swallowtail (Papilio zelicaon). Since the last of my butterflies emerged today, I thought I’d take another brief break from bees to show some photos I took while raising my butterflies.

Four Anise Swallowtail caterpillars at different stages of development. Believe it or not, these are all the same species!

Four Anise Swallowtail caterpillars at different stages of development. Believe it or not, these are all the same species!

adult top

Like the Monarch butterfly, Anise Swallowtail caterpillars specialize on a particular group of plants in the carrot family (Apiaceae). The adult butterfly is the only life stage that can fly and move quickly. Adult females lay eggs on the appropriate host plant, in this case, fennel or parsley, because the young caterpillars won’t be able to leave and search for new plants on their own.

I found a couple of young caterpillars on a wild fennel plant growing in my neighborhood, and another two eggs that happened to be laid on my parsley plant:

eggs new

Young eggs are small and yellow, and turn brownish as they mature.

eggs new use this

After a few days, the eggshells turned clear and the caterpillars were about to hatch. The photo doesn’t do it justice, but the eggs were a very pretty opalescent color, like tiny black pearls:

eggs late

The tiny newly-emerged caterpillars ate the eggshells as their first meal then began to munch on the parsley. The hole to the right of the caterpillar is where the egg used to be.

brand new larva

Because the caterpillars are not necessarily as toxic as the Monarch caterpillars, they have other defenses. The younger stages (instars) disguise themselves by looking a little like bird droppings.

larva 3

middle instar larva

late instar larva

As the caterpillars get older, they start to develop a different coloration pattern (caterpillars grow by shedding their skin, so they are able to change how they look when they molt).

late instar larva 2

late instar side

The older caterpillars look almost nothing like the younger ones, but they still have a special defense from predators. When disturbed, they rear their heads and exude yellow horn-like protrusions called “osmeteria:”

osmeteria

This is called a “startle defense.” It “frightens” potential predators into looking for another meal.

At this stage, the caterpillars are absolutely voracious. I had to get new fennel almost every day.

After a couple of weeks, the caterpillars search for a place to pupate. When they find a place, they attach themselves by a silk strand and prepare to pupate.

getting ready to pupate
They can travel some distance to find an appropriate spot- I even found one in my bag across the room!
caterpillar getting ready to pupate in bag

Fresh pupae can still startle predators by jerking around in their pupal case if disturbed:

The chrysalises can be a variety of colors from green to brown. I don’t know what causes the different colors, but I imagine that they are these colors in order to blend in with their surroundings so as not to be visible to predators.

green chrysalis

green chrysalis

brown chrysalis

brown chrysalis

The chrysalises were not at all smooth and jewel-like as the Monarch chrysalises were. Instead they had some very interesting textural patterns on the surface:

green pupa texture

green pupa close string

After a couple of weeks, the adult butterflies emerged from the chrysalises. I wasn’t lucky enough to catch the eclosion process, but here are some photos I took of the brand new butterflies:

Freshly eclosed adults take time to develop wings and fly away.

Freshly eclosed adults take time to develop wings and fly away.

face portrait

head top

side

wing closeup yellow

wing red

Bringing Bee Diversity to your Coffee Table

This has truly been an exciting month for those of us who love bees of all kinds. The Obama tweet about the White House plan to promote pollinator health, the release of a U.K. native bee documentary, and of course, let’s not forget that next week is National Pollinator Week!

And the cherry on top (did you know that many types of cherries require pollination to produce fruit?): you can now pre-order a hardcover book featuring the lovely photographs of Sam Droege for your own coffee table (coffee, of course, being another crop that benefits from bee pollination).

Cover of Bees: An Up-Close Look of Pollinators Around the World by Sam Droege and Laurence Packer

Cover of Bees: An Up-Close Look of Pollinators Around the World by Sam Droege and Laurence Packer

It’s an easy, cheap, and colorful way to bring bees into your home. You can pre-order yours today on Amazon for only $17, and they are estimated to ship out July 1st.

New Documentary: The Solitary Bees

A still of mating mason bees from the documentary The Solitary Bees

A still of mating mason bees from the documentary The Solitary Bees

Team Candiru has just released a new documentary online, a poetic and beautifully shot masterpiece about The Solitary Bees. It’s a short movie, only around 17 minutes, free to view online, and well worth the time.

It features bees found in the United Kingdom, but at least one of them (Anthidium manicatum, the woolcarder bee) has made its way here to the States as well. In addition to capturing amazing footage of solitary bees, it also includes a lot of great information.

Intimate Portraits of Bees by Sam Droege

Female striped sweat bee, Halictus ligatus, dusted in pollen. Photo by Sam Droege of the USGS, click to visit full article

Female striped sweat bee, Halictus ligatus, dusted in pollen. Photo by Sam Droege of the USGS, click to visit full article

Anyone who studies native bees in North America knows about Sam Droege, in no small part due to his stunning closeup photographs of bees.

Learn more about Sam Droege, his work with bees, and the beauty of bee diversity in a recent feature article by National Geographic

The Amazing Monarch Butterfly

I’d like to take a little detour from talking about bees for a moment to celebrate the occasion of my pet Monarch butterflies eclosing (emerging as adults) today.

Adults have compound eyes and long curled straw-like tongues (proboscis) for drinking nectar.

Brand new butterfly.

Part of the exhibit I created had a section dedicated to the Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus. In addition to the following poster, we also had several live Monarch caterpillars, chryalises, and butterflies on display.

monarch poster

After the exhibit concluded, I still had a few live caterpillars and couldn’t find any milkweed plants to put them on outside. So I took them home and held onto them in a terrarium until they pupated.

Here are some photos I took chronicling their development, from caterpillar to butterfly

One of the adults on display. Still looking pretty good after a full day of serving as an education tool.

One of the adults on display. Still looking pretty good after a full day of serving as an education tool.

A late instar larva munching on milkweed.

A late instar larva munching on milkweed.

Between every molt and before pupation, the caterpillars would hang inert for hours at a time.

Between every molt and before pupation, the caterpillars would hang inert for hours at a time.

A caterpillar preparing to molt. I missed the pupation event a few times because the larvae hang like this for hours, but the pupation itself (when the chrysalis is formed) only took a few minutes.

A caterpillar preparing to molt. I missed the pupation event a few times because the larvae hang like this for hours, but the pupation itself (when the chrysalis is formed) only took a few minutes.

Beginning of pupation

Beginning of pupation

Almost there...

Almost there…

Fresh pupa

Fresh pupa

A few minutes later

A few minutes later

Wings begin to form

Wings begin to form

A day or so before the adult butterfly emerges (eclosion), the chrysalis begins to become transparent (the water beads are because it was recommended I spritz the pupae with water a couple times a day to keep them from drying out)

A day or so before the adult butterfly emerges (eclosion), the chrysalis begins to become transparent (the water beads are because it was recommended I spritz the pupae with water a couple times a day to keep them from drying out)

pupa 2

pupa 3

pupa 4

Once the chrysalis becomes completely clear, eclosion will occur very soon.

Once the chrysalis becomes completely clear, eclosion will occur very soon.

pupa 6

The freshly emerged adult is very delicate. It hands upside down pumping hemolymph (bug blood) through the wings as they straighten and harden.

The freshly emerged adult is very delicate. It hands upside down pumping hemolymph (bug blood) through the wings as they straighten and harden.

empty chrysalis

Adults have compound eyes and long curled straw-like tongues (proboscis) for drinking nectar.

Adults have compound eyes and long curled straw-like tongues (proboscis) for drinking nectar.

monarch face top

thoracic closeup

wing 1

Butterfly wings derive their color from many small scales.

Butterfly wings derive their color from many small scales.

Bye, bye, butterfly!

Bye, bye, butterfly!

If you’d like to support Monarch butterflies by planting milkweed plants, the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation has some good resources at their Project Milkweed website, such as a

Flower Children: The Colorful Nests of Osmia

Photo by Jerome Rozen/American Museum of Natural History

Photo by Jerome Rozen/American Museum of Natural History

Bee larvae never have to share a room. The mother crafts for each of her children a nursery room, called a “cell.” Some species build these cells out of mud, others out of leaves. But perhaps the most beautiful nurseries are built by some species of the genus Osmia, which construct cells out of a paper-thin layer of mud encased in colorful flower petals (pictured above).

In the charmingly written article “Busy Bees Use Flower Petals for Nest Wallpaper,” NPR writer Kathleen Masterson interviews bee nest expert Jerome Rozen on the artistic habits of these solitary bees in an article complete with gorgeous photos taken by none other than Dr. Rozen himself. I highly recommend it to bee enthusiasts and romantic dreamers alike.

The Music of the Bees

Pollination Wunder Station (short) – audio bee booth from Resonating Bodies on Vimeo.

Sarah Peebles, a Toronto-based composer and artist, has constructed a wonderful “Pollination Wonder Station.” The above video excerpt from the installation shows beautiful footage (and audio) of a Megachilid stem nesting bee creating her nest. Stem nesting solitary bees build their nests in hollow stems, so they are attracted to holes drilled in the block of wood of the “Wunder Station.” I must say I love everything about this and you should certainly check it out.

For more information about Sarah Peebles and her Pollination Wunder Station, as well as some beautiful photos, check it out at the Resonating Bodies blog.

“This is a wunderkammer (‘cabinet of curiosities’), full of curious living things. This is not a beehive. It has no honey bees, no honey, no colonies, no beeswax or honeycombs. Like a condo, it has individual apartments for the many varieties of solitary bees and wasps native to Ontario. Aesthetically compelling, immersive and informative, Audio Bee Booths intersect habitat interpretation, biology, sound-installation and sculpture.”