Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Seasons End

It was another great year for butterflies.  Along with Monarchs and Eastern Black Swallowtails, I managed to find and raise Painted Ladies and Red Admirals.  I kept my eye out for a Yellow Swallowtail and never found it.  This year I raised 94 Monarchs, 22 Red Admirals, 3 Painted Ladies and 5 Eastern Black Swallowtails.  And I learned a lot.

I said last year that Swallowtails were feisty and eager to fly away.  Turns out that Painted Ladies and Red Admirals are even more ambitious.  Their wings dry faster and they are able to take flight within hours of emerging.  It was hard to capture these guys on camera, so a lot of my pictures happened indoors.

Red Admirals and Painted Ladies are also a proud looking butterfly.  They seem to have a proud upturned nose.  Snobby... almost. 

What I should have known and never realized til' this year is that a butterfly will always fly to the brightest source of light.  So if you come home late at night, it's best to wait until morning to release your new butterfly.  I stupidly released one at night thinking he would just fly up into the trees only to watch him circle the streetlamp.  I finally caught him and brought him in for the night. 

The caterpillar of the Red Admiral can look very different, but they all produce the same butterfly.  I did a test with 3 very different looking caterpillars only to get Red Admirals.  I was secretly hoping I had stumbled upon something different.  

I rescued one little Swallowtail from some Dill at the grocery store.  Most people would be grossed out by a caterpillar on their dill, but I was thrilled.  

Red Admirals are by far the hardest to care for.  I found all of my caterpillars on stinging nettles, which obviously sting, so you have to wear gloves.  They like to enclose themselves in leaves with a silken thread and you have to pry the leaf open.  The leaves dry out quickly and require constant changing.  Each time you give them a new leave you have to kick them out of their new leaf enclosure. They don't seem to eat quickly and it takes them much longer to mature into full grown caterpillars. I also only managed to locate one patch of nettles, so the food source was far. 

Finally, I seemed to have a lot of falling accidents. That is when the butterfly emerges from the chrysalis and loses its grip.  Once it has fallen, if you catch it right away, you can return it to a place to dry out.  If you don't, its wet wings will crumple and tear as it tries to turn around or get back up.  The end result is heartbreaking.  The wings of butterflies feel no physical pain, but without them they can't fly.  I contemplated keeping them in captivity, but in the end I gave them freedom, even though I knew it would be fleeting.   

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