Monarch Caterpillars

5/31/2021, 9 am.

I haven’t been able to check on the Monarch caterpillars since last Wednesday, five days ago. I wonder what I will find today as, along with honoring our fallen heroes this Memorial Day, I have a chance to go look at “my” milkweeds again.

Some of the plants seem to have reacted to the caterpillars’ munching by wilting the affected areas, and some still look normal. I haven’t been able to find a pattern in the wilting yet. Some of my thoughts are a genetic predisposition in some plants to wilt in response to caterpillar damage, more caterpillars eating the wilted ones, or some caterpillars carrying a plant disease.

There seems to be a lot of attrition between egg and three-day caterpillar. I have only seen one dead caterpillar so far, but I have not seen evidence of nearly as many caterpillars as there were eggs. It has been cool and rainy most days since the eggs were laid; that may be hard on newly hatched critters. There were several places I saw tiny frass but no caterpillars, but there were plenty of places for teensy caterpillars to hide. If they have survived they will be much bigger today, perhaps easier to see, and I can know from their droppings if they have still been alive and growing.

5/31/2021, evening.

I made it to the milkweeds this afternoon. I found two caterpillars large enough to be from the first day of hatching (11-12 days old), I’ve been writing about our Monarch caterpillars this year. There are two posts so far, eggs and caterpillars. several a few days old. I didn’t see any hatchlings today, but I did still see a few eggs.

Monarch caterpillar munching Spider Milkweed

Small Monarch caterpillar on blooming Spider MolkweedMonarch egg May 31, 2021Survival definitely looked better on non-wilted plants—that is, all or all-but-one living caterpillar I saw today were on healthy-looking plants. I did have another thought on the damaged milkweeds. I saw a few weevils on them last week, and today I noticed some holes in the stems of wilted branches that looked like they could have come from weevils’ snouts.

I didn’t just see caterpillars. I saw Penstemon digitalis about to bloom.  I saw a bee fly and a small scorpionfly, and a beetle or two in the flowers. The Coreopsis is gorgeous yellow, and the Deptford Pinks are starting to bloom.

White Penstemon buds ready to open

Striped winged critter on Spider Milkweed
Scorpion fly, Panorpa sp., identified 6/1   (5/31 “Dobson fly comes to mind, but frankly I’m too tired to look it up tonight. Critter on Spider Milkweed today.”)

I also saw a bumblebee when I arrived. I attended the Missouri Bumblebee Atlas workshop a few weeks ago they said bumblebees visit multiple plants of one species before moving on to another. Sure enough, it visited several plants of the spider milkweed, then multiple red clover plants, then back to spider milkweed before flying away.

Getting back to the monarchs, I am eager to see how much they grow in the next few days. Of course I could look up how long they live as caterpillars before they pupate, but this time I’m hoping to see for myself.

Monarch eggs!

Last Friday, May 14, the children and I saw our first Monarch butterfly of the year. On the 17th we found eggs in a milkweed patch, and on the 20th we saw the first hatchlings!

These photos were taken with a cell phone through a 16x loupe. I was pretty pleased how they came out, and they are easier to share than the pictures from my big camera awaiting processing so here they are: Monarch, Danaus plexippus, on Spider Milkweed, Asclepias viridis, in Johnson County, Missouri.

Green milkweed buds with a pearlescent ridged white Monarch butterfly egg
Monarch butterfly egg on Spider Milkweed
Tiny yellow, white, and black Monarch caterpillar on a green milkweed leaf
Day-old Monarch butterfly caterpillar on a Spider Milkweed leaf

Painting While I Can

Allena sitting at her booth showing a painting in progress
Allena Yates’s booth at the Chapter and Story Holiday Event, November 2020

(Written November 21, 2020)

There is a craft fair today.

I am sitting by the cold of the door painting little birds on small wood pieces. I am greeting people, making tentative connections, occasionally chatting, even selling a few paintings.

One gentleman came by and commented on my precision work, noting sadly that the shakes came by and hit him a few years ago. I made a sympathetic comment, but it sounded inane even to my ears. For a skilled artisan, the loss must have been great.

Thank you, Sir, for reminding me why I am doing this now. Why I am carving out time amidst the whirlwind of raising and teaching children, when life is so full it seems like it may burst at the seams.

Cardinal painted on a small wood slice
Cardinal in Flight

There is no guarantee that I will still be able to paint when life gets less busy. There is no guarantee of a continual steady hand or good eyesight until my children grow up and move away.

Aside from any other benefits of doing art with children, this is when I am physically capable of doing this work. It may be now or never. I think it is worth doing now.

Mid-Missouri Artists summer exhibition

The Mid-Missouri Artists annual summer exhibition is almost over.  We have a virtual summer exhibition at the University of Central Missouri up through tomorrow, June 30, 2020. ( We were each invited to enter three pieces. Please go see it while it’s still up; there’s a lot of beautiful work in there.  I thought I’d speak a bit about my submissions.

Long-stemmed blue flower with six petals
Blue-eyed Grass, Sisyrinchium bermudiana, by Allena Yates

The Blue-eyed Grass, Sisyrinchium bermudiana, was painted when I was still in college. It was intended for a brochure on the wildflowers of a local park. Since the purpose was field identification by visitors and we did not want them digging plants, none of the botanical illustrations showed the roots. Unfortunately the project was abandoned on the brochure side. I went on to graduate school and other things.

I got married and had children and focused almost completely on photography for a number of years, though I kept sketching and occasionally painting a bit.

In 2018 I pulled out my paints again and made a practice of going out with watercolors in the morning. One of the morning roses I photographed and picked to take inside so I could paint a more finished piece.  Here we have the Red Rosebud.

red rose bud with leaves, watercolor painting
Red Rosebud, watercolor on paper, by Allena Yates

In the fall of 2018, I was an “artist in the window” for the Heartland Home Educators group during the Dickens Fair in Warrensburg, Missouri. I didn’t figure flowers would do well on Christmas ornaments so I tried birds, some from memory and a few from my photos. I painted them on the same hardened dough ornaments we had for children to come and decorate.

People liked my birds! I needed a more permanent surface and began practicing birds on wood slices. I gave them to my family for Christmas that year, and in 2019 I made enough to sell some too, both as hanging ornaments and as magnets.

This cardinal was painted in 2020 with watercolor instead of the acrylics I had been using on the wood pieces, and using watercolor was like greeting an old friend again!

Red male cardinal sittingon a tree branch, with other branches and trees behind it, watercolor on paper
Cardinal in the Woods, by Allena Yates, 2020

Since this is my own site, I will show a fourth. I was visiting my parents on their anniversary and my dad asked me to paint a bird for him to watch. I didn’t have my wood slices or photos handy, but an orchid Daddy had given Mama on another occasion was in bloom. I painted it for them in watercolor, and he said that was nice enough.

yellow-green open-faced orchid, with more buds along the stem. watercolor on paper
Yellow-green orchid, watercolor on paper, 2020

Who, me?

I have been listening to the book Finish by Jon Acuff. In one section he talks about “noble obstacles,” things that seem noble to do but really throw a wrench into the works of the goal. One of his examples was a woman who wouldn’t start her blog until she talked to a copyright lawyer, for fear of someone stealing her content.

My husband heard that part and gave me a long look. I said, “We don’t know anyone like that, do we?” He had the audacity to actually say out loud, “Just you.”

The nerve of that man! I don’t need to talk to a lawyer first. I just want to register my copyrights. To everything. Before I use the pictures. Because it’s cheaper 750 at a time unpublished than registering every three months after they’re published, of course.

There, you see, I have good reasons for not having my stuff out there yet. Because with six children and some dairy goats to take care of, it’s pretty hard to get the time to go through 16 years of digital pictures (two years are already done) and predict the 750 I will want to use from each year, spend $55/batch to register them (if it hasn’t gone up), and keep track of the registry to make sure I only use the registered frame of a series that has 30 nearly identical photos.

It’s enough to make a girl just want to pick up a book instead of even trying. What? Are you looking at me too?

Goat kid looking at the camera
Who’s looking at whom?

Simply Pretty Sunset

I don’t very often get to sit down and watch a whole sunset. Last night I did. I saw the first blaze of yellow-orange and pulled up a lawn chair and sat there with my camera until the last pink faded to blue-gray.

The sun was still up here, shielded behind a tree.
The sun was still up here, shielded behind a tree.

There was a spot so beautiful that at first I thought it would be a spectacular sunset. The clouds were very interesting, but as sunsets go it was simply pretty. And I figured out something about what makes a sunset dramatic that I had never noticed before.

This was the most brilliant time of the sunset, with color on the most clouds near me.
This was the most brilliant time of the sunset, with color on the most clouds near me.

Now it seems so obvious, but here it is. To have gorgeous color all over the sky, you have to be near enough the edge of the cloud bank—or have enough breaks in the clouds—that the clouds over you are not in shadow.

Note that the blue clouds are in the shadow of the more distant clouds, putting within the near clouds just a narrow band touched with red
The End. Note that the blue clouds are in the shadow of the more distant clouds, putting within the near clouds just a narrow band touched with red.

I rested and watched a pretty sunset where I was. I watched a fabulous sunset . . . for those ten or fifteen miles to my west. I hope someone there saw it and enjoyed it as much as I did.