Saturday, May 31, 2008

Raising Butterflies

I think one of the most rewarding things I've ever done (besides raising my daughter, of course!) was the two times I raised butterflies.  The first time was when my daughter was little.  We raised those right from the eggs that we found on milkweed plants.  How fascinating to watch those tiny little eggs break up and the tiniest caterpillars appear.   Then we watched as those tiny caterpillars grew each day - you could almost watch them getting bigger.  Once in awhile we'd find a little pile of dead skin lying where one of the caterpillars had shed it to make room for his growing body.  

We had quite a walk to get the milkweed which grew in the nearby woods and each day we would set out to get fresh milkweed for the little guys.  And as they grew bigger, we had to come home with more and more leaves - boy, could those little guys EAT!  I remember it being a really hot summer that year too and wondering just why I had started this as we trudged the hot streets to get the milkweed.

When the caterpillars reached their full growth, you could actually hear them crunching on the milkweed plants.  Those big beautiful caterpillars crunched their way through the milkweed leaves every day.  Until the day came when they crawled up on the branches we had put in their container, attached themselves, hung down and turned into lovely green chrysalises.

I don't remember how many days we waited and watched those chrysalises until finally, late one night, the first chrysalis started to move.  It trembled and it shook and you could see the outline of the orange and black wings of the Monarch butterfly inside.  And finally the first Monarch emerged.  We had six Monarchs that year.  We let their wings dry for a day and then released them in the back yard.  What friendly little guys!  One landed in my hair and stayed for quite awhile.  They stayed in our garden for days and were a beauty to behold.  I wish I could put up some pictures but I didn't have a digital camera back then.

But I can put up some photos of the Swallowtail butterflies that I raised last summer.  Those I found on my parsley plant in my garden when they were quite big caterpillars.  They had almost completely finished with the parsley plant so I brought them in so I could buy more parsley and feed them and protect them from predators outside.   I only had them a few days when they went into their chrysalises.  While the Monarch chrysalises were shiny and green, the Swallowtail chrysalises were brown and looked just like the wood they were attached to.  When they went into chrysalises, they spun a very tight lasso around their bodies and then hung back on this cord.  They weren't as friendly as the Monarchs when released and only spent a few minutes in my garden before taking off.  But I was able to get a photo of one of them.  Here's one just coming out of the chrysalis.

And here's the photo of the one who stayed in my garden for a short time.

Raising butterflies is a very rewarding and fascinating experience.  You should give it a try!  If you have any questions about what to do, let me know.


Anonymous said...

Oh, WOW!! I absolutely loved reading about your experiences. I raise Black Swallowtails, myself, and I know what you mean about the lack of gratitude!!!!

I'm glad you're posting on Flickr and sharing your photos with the "Swallowtail Butterflies" group!!

Thanks for the link to your blog!!!


Jonara Blu Maui said...

That is so interesting that they have different personalities! We have a lot of monarchs by me. I was visiting a neighbor around the corner and they had tons of milkweek in their house just here and there with chrysalises on them. She said they do it every year..don't even keep them in a jar..they are just around the house and the butterflies come out and they easily move them outside. She said the milkweed is growing all around here..but I've yet to go try adn find it. I just know we have the monarchs flying all around. I see them drinking dew from my grass in the morning. I have a picture here in this blog post..though its not as close and pretty as yours.

Marjorie said...

Thanks, Claire and Jamee - I'm glad you enjoyed reading about my butterfly adventures. That's wild that your neighbor just lets the caterpillars stay uncaged in the house, Jamee. I'm sure the caterpillars would stay on the milkweed because all they care about is eating. But it would never work for me - not with my two cats! But caterpillars are the one creature that I don't mind caging since they only eat plants all day anyway. And bringing them in does protect them against predators.

I transplanted some Queen Anne's lace (which monarchs also love) into my yard last year and the plants are up and ready to bloom. I'm hoping to attract more monarchs this year though I don't know if I'll bring them inside. I have plenty of parsley out there too for any swallowtails who'd like to visit.

Enjoy your butterflies!

Life @ a whisper said...

what a fascinating does one tell what eggs will produce butterflies??? I really love the pic of the swallowtail on the pink flower...absolutely beautiful...thank you for sharing.

Marjorie said...

Each species of butterfly lays its eggs on different plants. The monarch's eggs are white and very tiny and can be found underneath milkweed leaves. Just take the whole leaf home with you because the eggs could be damaged if you try to remove them.

I didn't raise the swallowtails from eggs so I don't know what their eggs look like. They were in the caterpillar stage when I found them. I know swallowtails lay their eggs on parsley, fennel and Queen Anne's Lace.

There are some fascinating websites out there showing all the stages of the different butterflies. I guess I was lucky that the eggs I found were monarchs because they could have been something else!