Tuesday, 9 June 2009

The Butterfly Doula

My sister Jennifer is an interior designer, but she has many talents not least of which is the ability to lure monarch butterflies into her garden with delicious milkweed, nurture them to maturity, and even hold an umbrella over them so they are not crushed by their first rainfall. My sister, the butterfly midwife.

This is the email that she sent me about the butterflies -

I intentionally planted Florida Milkweed (Asclepias feayi) to attract Monarch butterflies. They happily arrived, laid their eggs and then the caterpillars feasted. One Saturday morning I was horrified to find they had munched through all of the Milkweed plants and were dropping off the bald stalks. They were supplied with more flowering plants.

About two weeks ago I noticed the caterpillars had disappeared. A friend told me that they spin their pods discreetly on the undersides of leaves...areca palm leaves, green bell pepper leaves, spinach leaves, sage leaves. The pods are light green with delicate markings in gold so they were difficult to find. While searching for the pods, I discovered the hideout for my resident flying frog. Yay.

Saturday morning, I noticed two pods were transparent (the orange and black butterfly folded wings were visible) and I waited. The pod split and the butterfly sort of climbed out with damp, crumpled wings. Then he slowly unfolded his wings out and stayed in the area flexing wings for about two hours before flitting off to a nearby shrub checked Wikipedia...the males have two distinct black markings (called sex scales) over veins on their hindwings and I've noticed they are bigger.

One of these pods split down the side but the transformation wasn't complete. Poor thing, she was half-baked and didn't make it. I wanted so badly to help but thats just nature saying something wasn't right.

This morning, the transparent pod in the picture I sent you this morning had fallen off a leaf so I placed it in the crook of two orchid leaves. The pod split, she wobbled out upside down and wrestled with the shell of her chrysalis before it dropped. I watched her fan her wings out this morning, took some pictures. When I went back an hour later to check, there was a small puddle of orange fluid on the table below her. Apparently while pumping this fluid into their wings to make them stiff, some drips out. And it is most definitely orange.

My yellow butterfly ginger "Hedychium flavum" is also flowering at the moment. It has a spicy gingery scent.
Alright, I will keep you informed and entertained with the Monarchs - I spotted four pods today. Have only just figured out how to take clear pictures with my camera. Don't zoom. Just stick the camera as close as I can.


Birth of a Butterfly

My sister in Coral Gables Miami just sent these (the pictures, not the butterflies) to me. The total email reads "I had to look up the plural of chrysalis...its chrysalides."
She has been rearing (?) monarch butterflies and they are just beginning to emerge from their cocoons.We have lovely monarchs here in Trinidad as well but I have been advised by my friend Courtenay that it would be very unwise to bring in my own butterfly rearing kit. The reason is that our local monarchs have evolved as a non-migratory branch of the family. Monarchs are well known for their spectacular migration shows and if we were to mix the two types, it would probably be an ecological disaster.
So thank you to my sister Jennifer, the butterfly doula.