Wild Things…
Raising Butterflies Pt. 1
By Karen Vizzi
    Surely one of the most beautiful creatures in our world is the butterfly. Ancient people revered them as the spirits of the dearly departed. Today we enjoy them for their physical beauty and for the childlike enchantment they bring to the wild garden. But the truly amazing thing about them is not in their visual appeal – it is the fact that they exist at all.
     These delicate insects face many challenges during their lives. Butterflies must pass through four distinct stages in order to complete their life cycle - a process known as a complete metamorphosis. Each stage requires certain conditions for completion, and each stage has different dangers.  One of the greatest dangers they face in all stages is from humans, with our incessant need to use insecticides and other chemicals. Butterflies after all, are insects!
     I consider myself fortunate to have grown up on a farm, because I have such distinct summertime memories of so many wild things! Praying mantis, June bugs and Luna moths…to name just a few. I can close my eyes and remember daily encounters with these critters. And now, they are scarce to non-existent. If you think back to your childhood, you will almost certainly remember a diversity of species that simply does not exist today. How very sad for us all. Unfortunately, we are largely to blame.
     But there is a way to regain a little of the magic. Earlier this spring, we talked about planning a garden to attract butterflies. To bring these winged wonders to your yard, eliminating chemical use is imperative. Planting nectar and larval food plants is a must. And now for the next three weeks, we will talk about how to go one step farther and hand-raise butterflies.
     Some people might think this is a silly project. But for the wild gardener, experiencing miracles of nature firsthand is never silly. We live for it. And being up close and personal to this particular miracle can help you learn may things that books cannot teach you about butterflies. Every year, I learn at least one new thing about each of the species I raise. It is also a marvelous opportunity to teach children about nature and responsibility. And finally, there are some conservation considerations that we will cover in Part 3 of this series.
     So, gather up some old mason jars and break out the magnifying glass. Next week, I’ll give some step-by-step instructions on how to raise butterflies. And even if it’s been years since you did your last science project, I promise this will be fun.
     Bird Brainers: You may be finding a lull in backyard bird activity now. Many birds become much more secretive during the breeding season.
     Butterfly Bullets: There seems to be a profusion of Red Admirals this year. This species lays its eggs on stinging nettle plants. 
     Plant Pointers: Avoid planting on hot sunny days, as plants will be stressed further in these conditions. Perfect planting conditions are overcast days, right before a rain shower.

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