Tuesday, April 29, 2008

We have Caterpillar Babies!

This evening Forest Zoo checked on our butterfly eggs, and found tiny caterpillars instead. They have started to hatch! They are only about 1/16 of an inch long, about twice as big as their egg though. They are crawling around looking for food. We have brought in some fresh big thistle leaves, and some mallow leaves for their dining pleasure. I hope they can make their way there and find them without getting lost.

You might want to take a peek a Forest Zoo's blog. He's been posting like crazy today and has two posts from a second grader's perspective on our butterflies and the four stages of a butterflies life.

Ordering Caterpillars

A couple people have asked me where we got our caterpillars from. I can tell you, but I know they are not the only supplier of caterpillars. We chose Painted Ladies, because they live around here and I knew they could get their favorite foods. Monarchs and Swallowtails are available also from some companies, but their life cycle isn't as quick.

We ordered a kit of 5 - 8 caterpillars with food and a growing cup from Butterflies and Blueberries. We didn't order a net cage, as we had an aquarium that we could keep them in once they hatched. But I just read another web page with directions on make a butterfly house out of a cardboard box. It also has more information about raising butterflies.

Another reputable place I know you can get caterpillars is Carolina Biological Supply. It is where teachers order science supplies for their classrooms.

We really have enjoyed our butterfly experience and I highly recommend it to any family. It is a great way to learn about life, with a minimal expense.

Eggs Changing Colors

I did some more searching for information on the egg stage of Painted Lady caterpillars. It appears it is shorter then I realized, only 3 - 5 days before they hatch. We learned the eggs turn dark shortly before they hatch. We looked closely at our eggs this morning, and we found some dark eggs. I'm hoping I'll get to watch one hatching, and crawling around. I'll post photos when I have them.

I also learned that one Painted Lady can lay up to 500 eggs! I don't think we have that many, but they are so tiny, I might be surprised.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Painted Ladies Love Dandelions

Forest Zoo helped me photograph some of our flutter babies today. He provided dandelion delivery services. Then he put a butterfly on a dandelion and held it in the light for me, so I could move in close and capture some of the beauty of creation seen in a Painted Lady butterfly. Most of the time we just don't get a chance to look at a butterfly closely. If we do it is a special moment. Usually they are off to bounding off to better buttercups in a blink.

Our butterflies are so tame. They don't mind being close to us at all. They enjoyed the fresh dandelions so much they hardly paid any attention to how close I was putting my lens to their face.

The sunlight was just right, lighting up the butterfly, and the macro lens blurred out the background, so you can't see any kitchen chairs or dishes in the china cabinet. See the little white knots on the end of their antenna. I hadn't noticed them before until I started looking at the photographs I had taken today. Learning to look close enough to really see is an art.

Did you notice the double straw on this lady's proboscis? They use their proboscis for sucking up nectar. I noticed that after looking at the photos too.

Painted Ladies have compound eyes that are almost as big as their heads. Click to view an enlarged version of the above photo so you can see grains of the grains of pollen from the Dandelion on this Lady's eye.

When you see a butterfly flying by, you can't see how the color of their wings is made, but you can see amazing detail if you zoom in close with a macro lens. It is interesting to study the scales on their wings that make up the color. Click on the above photo so you can see it enlarged.

Painted Ladies have the scientific name of Vanessa cardui. Many girls have been named after this common butterfly. Vanessa is the brush foot genus. There are three other butterfly species that share the genus of Vanessa, including Red Admirals. You can learn more about Vanessa butterflies here.

Painted Lady Eggs

I'm so excited to show you how pretty a Painted Lady egg can be. Click on the photo to see it enlarged. Aren't they a pretty blue? See the fine lines on the side. Wouldn't they make pretty beads? In real life they are just larger then the hole a pin would make if it were poked in a paper. Really tiny! The macro lens my husband bought me is really helping with our science project.

We have learned that it takes 5 - 10 days for the caterpillar to emerge from the egg. Just before it hatches it changes to a dark color. We are estimating that we should have baby caterpillars sometime between Thursday and Tuesday.

We've got eggs!

We've got eggs! (I've got photos of them, but can't download them, because that computer isn't working today.) One day after we brought the thistles to our butterflies, the gentlemen started visiting with the ladies, if you know what I mean. The next day little blue/green dots started appearing on our thistle leaves. The eggs are about the size of a pin poke. Some were even laid on the orange slices we have put in with the butterflies. The Painted Ladies really seem to enjoy orange juice. And they love Dandelions! I've been viewing them up close with my macro lens and will have some interesting photos for you, as soon as my computer is working again.

The sad part of metamorphosis has started to take place though. Our first butterfly has died.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Thistles for Our Ladies

After consulting our favorite Jr. High science teacher, we went out in search of thistles for our Painted Ladies. They are more likely to lay eggs if there is some food for the baby caterpillars when they hatch. We dug up some small plants and put them in four empty pots.
The butterflies got excited when we put the thistles in the aquarium. They crawled over them eagerly, as if testing their quality territory.

We discovered that the butterflies didn't mind being held. Oh my! That sure was fun! If they flew away, they went straight to the window, so it was easy to get them to crawl back on our hands. I love having butterfly pets!

Bear Paw Quilt Being Tied

Back in January I finished piecing this Bear Paw quilt top. It has been sitting on my table since then needing to be finished. I'd really like to have time and skill to machine quilt it, but decided to be more practical and tie it, so it can be used. Sunday I used scraps from the top, and some yardage I had to make a pieced back. When I was finished I had just a small pile of tiny pieces left over, and didn't have to buy anything fabric.
I brought in a folding camping table from the garage, and now am set up in the middle of the family room, so I can add a few ties whenever I have a few minutes. I started tying using embroidery floss, but it didn't look right with the flannel fabric. I ripped those ties out and started over with a skien of variegated yarn in warm fall colors. Emily Rose is even helping me with the tying. I sure appreciate her help. The yarn colors are perfect for this quilt. I hope to have it ready to bind soon.

For more Sew Crafty fun, see Shereen's blog.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Butterfly Science

Forest Zoo and I have been studying insects for science. We ordered some Painted Lady Caterpillars. They arrived a few days after the beginning of April, and were quite tiny. They were inside a shallow cup eating food as fast they could. We followed the directions and left them in the small cup until they were larger then 5/8th of an inch long. Then we were to put some food in a larger cup and transfer the caterpillars to the new cup. They grew amazingly fast in the new cup.
Eating! Eating! Eating! I wasn't sure what was in the provided food, but it must have been something really special. Those larva loved it!
Less then two weeks later, they started forming chrysalis. Soon six were hanging from the filter paper that lined the lid of the cup. One was laying on the bottom. He must not have attached securely to the roof.

The chrysalis are gray with gold spots. They surprised us by wiggling sometimes. I've always thought that they were kind of dead in this stage. We learned that the wiggling is to scare away predators. We learned that when caterpillars form their chrysalis, they turn themselves into liquid, and then reform into a butterfly when inside. When the butterfly emerges, some of the left over liquid can come out too. It was as red as strawberries. We misted the chrysalis daily with water until they turned black, then it was almost time for them to emerge. I was amazed that the time in the chrysalis was so short. It was just a little longer then a week.

Monday morning shortly after getting up I found the first butterfly had hatched. That changed the course of the whole day. When ever would school be so interesting! We transfered the chrysalis to a large aquarium we own, so they would have room to move around. We added some flowers and sticks to sit on. We had plans for regular homeschool, but all we could do was sit there and watch the butterfly, and his brother's hatch. It was amazing! They come out of the chrysalis so quickly, you really have to pay attention to see the whole thing.

I think this is one of my favorite science projects we have ever done. It was as exciting for me as watching a baby be born.

Painted Lady Butterflies are very beautiful! All seven of our babies hatched.

It is too cold outside for butterflies to be out and about. It is freezing every night. Monday it snowed twice! So we are experimenting with keeping them happy in our aquarium, in hopes that there will be some eggs laid and we will get to see the whole process once again.

CeCe the Cantalope Cat

Now that CeCe is pregnant she has taken to eating some new kinds of foods. Dry cat food will do, but if there is cantaloupe available, she'll be glad to clean off your rinds.

Pink Tulips for Sister

Pink treasure tucked into his dirt covered little hands, arms tucked behind his back, he came sneaking through the kitchen toward the dining table. "Close your eyes sister. I have a surprise for you!"

Then just before he darted outside again, he hurriedly whispered to her, "I love you."

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park was probably my favorite part of our trip south. There were the most wildflowers there, and I think my photography skills were improving every day. I was getting more comfortable with my new macro lens. I took 300 - 400 photos there. But there is bad news. Because of some computer complications, and bit of miscommunication, the photos didn't really get downloaded onto the computer. I'm still bummed about it. But as my optimistic husband reminded me, I could have been worse. I still had fun there. I have good memories. I still have many great photos. And we came home with the whole family still healthy, with no car problems. Yes, I do have so much to be thankful for. And if you want to know what Joshua Tree National Park looks like in the spring, you will have to go there yourself, or do some searching around on the web for someone else who posted flowers from there.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Mojave National Preserve - Wildflowers 2008

Dune Evening-Primrose

I have been having so much fun learning about the Wildflowers of the southwestern deserts of the USA. You may think I already knew it all before I went on the trip, but I didn't. I have been having to learn as I went. And even now I am searching to identify the wildflowers I photographed. I really have enjoyed the challenge. Learning new things about wildflowers is so much fun.

I have used several things to help me with the identification process of the desert wildflowers. I picked up two pamphlets in the ranger stations that really helped me.

Wildflowers of Death Valley National Park, put out by the Death Valley Natural History Association. $2.50.

Wildflowers of Joshua Tree National Park, produced by the Joshua Tree National Park Association, in cooperation with the National Park Service. $1.50.

On the web, I've found two very helpful websites.

Desertusa.com has a very helpful online field guide to desert wildflowers which allows you to search by color, or download an mp3 to take with you on a hike.

Black Turtle has made a fantastic website of Death Valley Area Wildflowers. You can search by common names, scientific names or colors.

And if you need some of those wildflowers growing in your yard, Plants of the Southwest can help you. I found they sell wildflower seeds. Now if I could just choose which ones I want to order.

Now, lets take a look at some of the lovelies I found. I've got wildflowers, cactus, Joshua Trees, Mountains and a nesting Red Tailed Hawk for you.

Mojave National Preserve isn't all flat. It has Joshua trees, cinder cones and desert tortoise. We would have loved to search out a tortoise, but will have to save that for another time. We only had enough time to drive through the park, stop at the visitor's center and pull over for new wildflowers or interesting vistas.

The views were interesting, but if you didn't watch your step, it was likely that you would step on fresh bloom. Tiny little Woolly Daisies, and purple mat carpeted many places.

Woolly Daisy (Eriophyllum wallacei) grow only a few inches high, but are as cute as a little yellow button.

Spanish Needles (Palafoxia linea) are lovely close up.

The pink flowers in the above picture is the very fragrant Sand Verbena (Abronia villosa).
The white flowers from the above pictures (and on the top of this page) are the lovely, large flowered Dune Evening-Primrose (Oenothera deltoides).

Joshua Trees (Yucca brevifolia) are quite interesting. They grow really slow, and aren't very strong. They are pollinated by the Yucca moth. They grow either from seed or from an underground rhizome from another tree. If it survives desert life, it can live a couple hundred years, but it doesn't grow with annual growth rings, so it is difficult to tell how old they are. To bloom they must have a winter freeze, and enough rainfall. They don't start branching until after they have bloomed.

In the distance of this photo you can see the famous Kelso Dunes. They know for the sound they make as you slide down the dunes. The low frequency rumble is called "booming dunes."

The blue flower in the foreground is Blue Phacelia (Phacelia distans). After some searching around I have decided that the unidentified blue flower on my first Death Valley wildflower page is also likely the Blue Phacelia or one closely related.

Broad-Flowered Gila (Gilia latiflora)

Red Tailed Hawk sitting her nest in a Joshua Tree, several miles north of Kelso Visitor's Center.

After the hawk took off flying, I found these Fremont Phacelia (Phacelia fremontii) blooming nearby.

Close up the Fremont Phacelia reminds me of a petunia, but the flowers are smaller then a dime in size.

Desert Gold or Desert Sunflower (Geraea canescens)

Desert Gold Poppy (Eschscholzia glyptosperma). Golden yellow flowers that I thought at first were pale California Poppies. I was surprised to learn that there is more then one kind of gold colored poppy. The famous California Poppy has bigger flowers and their color is more toward an orange.

Globe Mallow or Desert Mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua)

The fuzzy leaves can irritate the skin of some people. As the plant increases in age, so do the number of it's branches.

Desert Star (Monoptilon bellioides)

Arizona Lupine (Lupinus arizonicus)

Beaver Tail Cactus almost ready to bloom. Click on the link if you want to see what the pretty pink blooms look like when they are open.

Close to the southern entrance to the park we came upon a most lovely scene with rocks, yucca, cactus and wildflowers. Birds were singing from nearby trees.

We pulled over and walked around. It was almost like being in a garden. There was short green plants that felt like a lawn after walking on sand on rocks. Granite boulders lay around as if arranged on purpose.

Cholla (pronounce Choy-ya) posed beside the yucca, and thankfully I didn't get caught with their prickly spines.We were so glad that we got to visit this lovely place, at such a lovely time of year, and will treasure memories of fun family times for years to come.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

A Beautiful New Day is Born

We weren't anywhere near a campground as we traveled south between Death Valley and Mojove National Preserve, when it started getting late, so we found a quiet spot on BLM land to spend the night. It was so quiet there. No people noise. No light, except the light of the stars and the full moon. The air was fresh and clean and peaceful.

I crawled out of my sleeping bag just before the sun.

The moon was close to setting just as the sun started to send color around the curve of the earth, giving the hills a rosy glow.

The yellow back lit sky silhouetted the interesting shape of the hills.

It didn't take long until it was up, spreading warming rays over the desert sand.

Morning filtered through creating shadows and colored light on the hills.

Even the barren, rocky washes were beautifully catching rays of the sun.

A beautiful new desert day was born.