The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, August 1, 2003


This week's biodiversity corner is brought to you by the letter 'M" · for monarch, moose and mushrooms

Monarch Caterpillar

Photo by Steve Troppoli

Name: Larval stage of the Monarch butterfly, Danaus plexippus, a member of the family of milkweed butterflies, Danaidae.

When and where seen: The caterpillar was photographed by Steve Troppoli in his yard in mid-July where it was dining on one of the milkweed plants which Steve allows in his garden for the express purpose of accommodating Monarchs. If you want to see a Monarch caterpillar, look under the leaves of the milkweed plants in your neighborhood through August.

Identification: The Monarch caterpillar is a smooth-bodied creature with no hairs, knobs, horns, or spines like many other caterpillars. It has a whitish body with black and yellow stripes and a pair of black, fleshy, feeler-like filaments at either end of its 2 - 2 3/4 inch long body.

Food: Host plants for the Monarch caterpillar are milkweed and dogbane. The caterpillar protects itself by incorporating toxins from milkweed which makes it distasteful to predators, hence no need for horns and spines. This toxic shield carries forward in the life cycle and offers protection for the adult butterfly too.

Life cycle: Monarch butterflies, in our area, migrate south in the fall and spend the winter with millions of their kind at high altitudes in fir forests in the Sierra Madre in central Mexico. Monarchs in the western USA migrate to the central and southern coast of California for the winter. As they return north in the spring, they breed along the way, and the females place their pale green eggs, singly, on milkweed plants. The eggs hatch in about 4 days into caterpillars which feast for about 10 days before pupating. The adult emerges from the chrysalis in another 12 days. This cycle continues until the adults of the last brood in the fall migrate south.

References: Peterson First Guides, Caterpillars, Amy Bartlett Wright; Stokes Nature Guides, A Guide to Observing Insect Lives, Donald W. Stokes; Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Butterflies, Robert Michael Pyle.

Moose alert!

Marjorie Johnson alerted me to the moose tracks in her veggie garden at Foss Farm on July 17. I met her there and photographed and measured the prints. It was hard to tell if there was more than one moose but the prints (7 inches long and 4 inches wide) were large enough to be those of a big bull moose. The ground was sufficiently soft in places that the moose also left impressions of the two dew clews just behind the hoof print. The two-toed moose print is almost identical in shape to a deer print only much, much larger. An adult deer print reaches only 3 inches in length for a mature buck.

Mushrooms abound

Right now in the woods you can find lobster mushrooms, edible species of Lactarius and Boletus, and about 1/4 mile from the town center on School Street is a large "Chicken of the Woods" at the side of the road that you can see from your car. I ate a few slices of it last week when it was young and tasty. It's a tough old rooster now and fading to white from its glorious orange. Caution: don't eat a mushroom if you can't identify it with certainty as an edible species. Some mushrooms will make you sick and get you acquainted with a stomach pump, but some are deadly. There are a lot of beautiful but deadly Amanitas species around now.

2003 The Carlisle Mosquito