Wild Things…
Butterfly Gardening Pt. 3
By Karen Vizzi
     In the last days of the caterpillar stage, these temporary “pets” tend to be very high maintenance. You may even wonder why you got involved in this project in the first place! But be patient, because the most fascinating part is yet to come.
     As discussed in Part 2, most butterfly species will remain in the caterpillar stage for approximately 2 to 3 weeks. Remember to be vigilant about adding fresh leaves of the host plant and don’t allow the pillar poop to build up on the bottom of the jar or cage, as this can mold and cause disease.  After about a week or so, you will want to prepare the environment for the next event…the forming of the chrysalis. Butterflies do not spin cocoons. Cocoon is the term used to describe the enclosure made by moths. Butterflies form a structure called a chrysalis. Interestingly, the caterpillar does not enclose itself, grow a pair of wings and then emerge as a butterfly. What takes place inside the chrysalis is actually a complete physiological breakdown and re-building of the insect. This stage may last anywhere from 10 days to 3 weeks before it finally emerges as the beautiful adult. Again, the insect is extremely vulnerable to all sorts of dangers such as predation and even over-zealous garden clean up by humans!
     Once the caterpillar has reached its full size, it will stop eating and may appear restless as it searches for a place to begin the next stage of its life cycle. Where the caterpillar chooses to build its chrysalis depends a lot on the species. For example, the Eastern Black Swallowtail prefers to hang its chrysalis from twigs. The Monarch looks for a broad flat surface like the underside of a large milkweed leaf and some other species will roll themselves up in garden debris. To cover all bases, add a few twigs and/or dried leaves to the cage. Also, if using a Mason jar, be sure to replace the pantyhose cover with the Mason jar lid after you have punched a few air holes in it. This can be easily done with a hammer and small finishing nail. Just be sure to punch out so that there are no sharp edges facing inside the jar. When raising Monarchs in particular, I will also attach a small wire to the jar lid. Monarchs tend to crawl to the top of the jar (broad flat surface) to form their chrysalis, so this enables me to just pull the lid off and hang it somewhere once the chrysalis has been formed. The adult butterfly is then free to fly away whenever it emerges.
     When the adult butterfly does emerge, it is a shriveled form of its ultimate self. It needs a period of time to dry off and pump fluid (called hemolymph) into the veins in its wings. Once the wings are fully expanded and dry, the adult will expel some fluid from the abdomen and fly off to begin the cycle all over again.
     If you are lucky enough to actually witness the moment the insect encloses itself in the chrysalis, or emerges as an adult butterfly…you will be hooked forever on this miracle of nature. I started several years ago with one jar and one caterpillar. Today, I raise and release hundreds of butterflies and moths of varied species. And in case you are thinking that I am completely nuts, there is a very good reason for this. Each summer I participate in several interesting conservation projects that monitor things such as larval food supplies and migration movements of different species, in particular the Monarch butterfly. Next week I’ll talk more about those projects as well as resources to expand your knowledge on these simply amazing creatures.
Bird Brainers: Birds are especially fond of fruit – pears and apples are a big hit in my wild garden.
Butterfly Bullets: The long straw-like projection that the butterfly uses to sip nectar is called a proboscis.
Plant Pointers: Pinch off any flowers that form on your herbs. If flowers are allowed to form on culinary herbs, then the leaves become less tasty for flavoring food.

 
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