Thursday, March 31, 2016

Leader of Monarchs

This month our milkweed garden fairly bristled with caterpillars -- at one point we counted 18 at one time. But this one precocious caterpillar led the way for the new season of Monarch butterflies we hope will emerge from our side and back yard. Here he/she is, first in the j phase, then as a green chrysalis that formed a few hours later. At the time of this writing, it has been about a week since we watched that amazing process unfold. We expect it to hatch, if all goes well, this weekend!

Thursday, March 3, 2016

First Born

The first caterpillar emerged from its pinhead-sized egg (3/32 of an inch, or less than 1/8 inch long). Catching this is rare -- I had seen it take place only once before  -- because after hatching the caterpillar consumes its egg and hides under a leaf.  Here it is almost translucent but you can see its tiny legs and little black head. Next it will travel toward the tube-like structure supporting the flower buds where it will hide, eat, then reappear as a yellow-and-black striped Monarch caterpillar.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Our First Lady Monarch Arrives Early

An egg-laying Monarch butterfly in February? Who knew this was even possible in Southern California--yet today marks the unexpected beginning of our third season managing a home Monarch Habitat to help this species survive and thrive at a time when its essential nursery plant, milkweed, is threatened by pesticides.

She arrived today, a beauty, and set about laying several eggs on our milkweed. Maybe this early arrival occurred because this year, for the first time, we cut back our dozen or so milkweed plants in the fall and they grew back with abundant green leaves, larger than before . Apparently this pleased our flying-by butterfly and she decided to stay a while.

One photo shows her on the shade plant, lantana (with blossoms). The other photo shows her on her milkweed, where earlier today she laid eggs that we hope will develop into our first caterpillars of 2016. 

We'll be looking out for them.

Friday, June 19, 2015

The Soma Connection

Soma, a Sanscrit word first recorded in the Vedic literature of ancient India, refers to a sacred substance consumed by the gods to induce a godlike, or exalted, state of mind. It was also poison, and if wrongly (or call it 'profanely') ingested, soma could result in death. No one knows what soma actually was, or whether it was ingested as a plant found in nature or brewed into a drink, but the prevailing theory is that it was a type of asclepius or milkweed. Milkweed can be sustenance  for some creatures, but for most it is toxic.

Aldous Huxley picked up on the word soma in his novel Brave New World, where it is portrayed as a drug guaranteed to induce the happiness of a pleasant journey without even bothering to leave home. Such a benefit masked the reality that soma, an escape from the dehumanizing side of a dystopian society, was formulated to pacify a potentially restless population.

Apart from my interest in the soma-Huxley connection, which I talk about in my forthcoming book Aldous Huxley's Hands, I have a personal connection with asclepius. My husband and I are deeply involved in cultivating our backyard butterfly sanctuary, where visiting Monarch butterflies lay their eggs on our milkweed plants because asclepius is the only food their caterpillars can eat.

I consider this kind of opportunity for interspecies contact as a gift. Luckily, we have many chances to see and sometimes engage with the wildlife that visit our southern California neighborhood, which is adjacent to Santiago Creek. The creek serves as a wildlife highway from the mountains.

Our current home is inland, but as someone who grew up near the ocean I am grateful for having had, to date, seventy-five diving experiences of the underwater world and its inhabitants.

This blog will be a kind of collage, sometimes current and at times a retrospective in photographs and stories (some previously published), of my wildlife encounters.