Sunday, September 11, 2011

Empty Nestin'

It's been a wonderful summer of butterfly raisin' and releasin'.  Overall, I released 12 Eastern Black Swallowtails and 94 Monarchs.  This has been my 3rd summer raising butterflies, but only my first logging and keeping track of them.  I found that writing down my observations has been exceptionally helpful in learning more about these amazing creatures.  Here is what I learned.

*They are extremely resilient.  My butterfly, caterpillars, chrysalises and I traveled to and from Wisconsin 5 times this summer

*Before molting a caterpillar will stop eating and often climb to the roof of the cup.  This process may take 1-2 days and is no need for alarm.

*As the caterpillar grows the skin stretches out and the stripes become wider. After molting, the stripes are very narrow and almost wavy due to excess skin.

*Eastern Black Swallowtails are much more feisty.  As caterpillars they enjoy fighting and crawling all over each other.  As butterflies they are anxious to take flight.  It was rare for me to snap a photo before they fluttered away.

*When agitated the Swallowtails evert their osmeterium, a fleshy orange forked structure that is normally hidden on their forehead.  This emits a foul smelling secretion which can be best compared to the smell of turpentine.  Although not as noticeable when outdoors, indoors it is quite strong and almost sickening.

*It seems that in big groups the caterpillars sense each other's metamorphosis.  Although they all make chrysalises on different days they often emerged on the same day.

*When the caterpillars are ready to molt for the final time into a chrysalis, their bodies hang limp and their antennae are ragged and limp.  Their bodies slowly undulate from the bottom to top in an almost alien fashion.

*I released 15% more females than males and found that males are much more reluctant to fly away.

*Butterflies seem to sense the weather.  On rainy or overcast days, they are content to spend an extra night indoors.  On sunny warm days they are much more anxious to take flight.

*Towards the end of the season, a butterfly won't emerge if the weather is too cold.  They remain in their chrysalis until the day warms up.  Indoors they always seem to emerge in the early morning, however when camping in the cooler weather, they wait until later in the day when the afternoon sun can naturally warms their bodies, and then they emerge.
My empty nest.
One of my last batches to fly the nest.  On my best day, I released 14 butterflies.  The weather was overcast, so most of them were willing to stick around for a photo shoot.
 Ronnie and Bon Bon.  My twin Monarchs.
 Bon Bon and Donald
 Blackberry, munching methodically on some dill.
Bea and Rue.
Federica.  I found her chrysalis on the bottom of the aquarium.  It seemed that she may have fallen during pupation.  One side was flattened and the other side had a slight crack.  I strung her back up and hoped for the best.  Fede is the Italian word for faith. Fittingly I decided to have some faith in her survival.  She was my last butterfly to emerge from her chrysalis and I could tell from the first 10 seconds that she would struggle for her life.  It was a sad way to end the season, but I am happy that she at least had a chance.  In the wild she would not have even made it this far.
I dream of the last of my brood flying to California for the winter.  Every time I bike past a fluttering Monarch, I wonder if he or she were one one of my own.  I value and love each one of them.  Until next summer.... I'll be ready and waiting.

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