Just hanging out

Once I began stalking honey bees with a camera, I became more and more enamored of insects in general. First I shot only honey bees, then I added other bees, and then other pollinators. Now I photograph anything even remotely connected with the outdoors. It becomes an obsession.

And I’m not the only one. A number of readers have sent me photos of things they have seen in and around their bee yards. Now that winter is coming and our honey bees are preparing to hole up for many months, it seems like a good time to start sharing some of these images.

Yesterday, Nan of Shady Grove Farm in Kentucky sent along this photo of a monarch caterpillar hanging from a chicory plant that she had left unmowed for her honey bees. She writes:

My garden draws monarchs because of the honeyvine milkweed, which a local entomologist told me is the most popular of the Asclepiadoideae [milkweed sub-family] for laying their eggs on. If caterpillars turn up while I’m weeding, I move them carefully to the fallow plot (where there’s always lots of honeyvine) hoping they will finish growing and pupate undisturbed. But the little creeps go stomping off to the bean rows, the chile plot, or the tomato trellises and hang themselves up in the worst possible places for getting picked, brushed against at a critical moment, or pulled up with spent vines. Either the pupa is blasted and quits developing, or even sadder, the butterfly emerges malformed and can’t fly.

Happily I had left this plot of chicory unmowed for the bees and it’s almost spent, but here is a monarch just starting to pupate. If you enlarge it you can see the silken cremaster along the horizontal stem. I will try to get some more images as the pupa develops and maybe catch it emerging. (You see, my entomologist friend has me conditioned not to say “hatching!”

Like honey bees, butterflies go through complete metamorphosis: egg, larva (caterpillar), pupa (chrysalis), and adult. The cremaster mentioned above is a hook that a pupa uses to anchor itself to a twig or other object. Before pupation, the larva spins a silken pad onto the twig where the pupa will anchor the cremaster once it appears. The chrysalis then hangs by the hook until the adult butterfly emerges.

Monarch butterfly caterpillar hanging in a chicory plant and preparing to pupate.
Monarch butterfly caterpillar hanging in a chicory plant and preparing to pupate.

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