The last month has been full of wonder, anticipation and excitement. I’m just going to assume everyone likes butterflies, even if my daughter didn’t want them to land on her when she was little and we would go through the conservatory at the Henry Doorly Zoo. If you follow me on Facebook or Instagram, you know about my recent adoption.
Less than 10%
One evening in June I was sitting on the front steps while the dogs were wandering the yard. I noticed a Monarch Caterpillar, who I later named Ze. Aside from the interest, and taking a quick snap, I didn’t think too much about it. Posted a photo on Facebook and my friend Linda chimed in that I should bring Ze inside. I’m a big believer in letting nature take it’s course, although we humans haven’t been so good about caring for nature (in a big bad ecological way), and because of her comment, I did a little research. I found out researchers estimate 10% (at best) of Monarch eggs make it to becoming a butterfly. Some estimate as low as 2%. So the next day I went out to get Ze and I didn’t find her. Jim did – she was hanging out under a leaf on another plant. Little did I know at the time she was probably ready to chill and pupate. But, I brought her in and gave her a home in a mesh laundry hamper with some milkweed leaves.
Assuming she was better off outside, I took the hamper onto the deck. An hour later she had crawled up and out. So I coaxed her back onto a leaf, and put her back inside. This time I covered the hamper with a paper bag. She stayed in, and eventually spun her silk onto the bag. For 10 days, I took her inside at night and outside unless it was raining (which we didn’t get much). I snapped photos of the chrysalis, and posted on Facebook. It turned black. My heart sunk.
Is a black chrysalis bad?
I posted, I googled, I found both good and bad results for this blackness. The only other time we had tried to raise caterpillars, we had bought a kit for the kids. I don’t even know what kind of caterpillars they were or if we just didn’t wait long enough. We will never know. But, in Ze’s case, black isn’t a bad thing!
Turns out, the direction Ze had hung made it impossible for me to see much inside her chrysalis. The next day I took the bag off (very carefully, I didn’t realize the silk is like super glue and there was no way the chrysalis would come off) and turned it around, I could see WINGS! I was ecstatic! I grabbed my old iphone and tripod and set it up inside the hamper to capture the moments she eclosed.
A butterfly is born
I thought it could be hours, so I didn’t livestream, and went for a walk. When I got back, she was out and just starting to pump her wings. I spent the next several hours watching and documenting her progress, and let her wings dry (mostly outside). Then when she could flutter around, I took her back outside and let her fly away.
Monarchs adopted me
Since Ze, I have found 10 more monarch caterpillars, in almost every stage, except egg. I thought I found eggs, and I did actually find an egg when I was picking leaves to feed the caterpillars, I just didn’t know it until an extra teensy weensy caterpillar turned up in the hamper. We’ve lost a couple of caterpillars, probably due to parasites (based on how they died), but in the end, we now have 6 chrysalis in the hamper, and Houdini.
With the deaths, I decided to separate the caterpillars until they pupated. I popped them into clean shoe boxes and covered the boxes with sheer fabric, taped tight so they wouldn’t escape. The littlest one had a box to itself. Daily, we gave them fresh leaves, and they all attached to the fabric, pupated, and I moved them into the hamper. The littlest was still a very hungry caterpillar. Yesterday I gave it a new leaf, and it was still munching away, then late afternoon, it slowed down and got sleepy. No longer little, I figured the time was soon. I THOUGHT I taped the fabric tight, but apparently not – after dinner, I looked and didn’t see the caterpillar. Most of the time when this happened, they were on the underside of the leaf. I looked, and didn’t see it, so I opened up the box, and turned the fresh leaf over – not there?!?!
Jim and I looked up, we looked down, we looked under the countertop, chairs, and even the frames on my art. Then, I don’t know why, Jim looked in the hamper. And THERE – along the top, but INSIDE, UNDER the fabric cover, was Houdini!
Who knew they wanted to be together? And that the sense was so strong, that Houdini not only figured out how to escape, but how to get inside. Today, Houdini is hanging in J form, ready to pupate.
I almost forgot to tell you this most amazing experience. I can’t say for certain it was Ze, but if it wasn’t, it was a very astute butterfly. Before I decided to separate the caterpillars, I had them all outside on the porch in the hamper. To keep the milkweed fresh for them, I pulled young plants from the garden and stuck them in jars in the enclosure. One night, Jim and I were watching TV and a monarch bumped the window. I didn’t think anything of it. Then it happened a few minutes later. A third time, and serious enough that I looked to see if it had knocked itself out like a bird hitting a window. I went outside, and the wind had caught the hamper and knocked it over – water everywhere, and fortunately all of the caterpillars were ok, none of them were in the water. Coincidence? Or did the butterfly know what happened and was actively getting my attention?
WOAH! As I sit here typing, two of our butterflies eclosed – I heard the sound of “plastic” looked over and there they were:
NEW WORK – INSPIRED BY ZE
Pâte de Verre vessels, about 4″ tall. $100 each
These three paintings are created with several layers of vitreous enamel (on salvaged glass) that have been fired at multiple temperatures to achieve specific colors and texture. They are roughly 8 inches square and have been mounted to a white cradle panel to make them easy to hang.
You Made it to the End…
Are you wondering why I named the first butterfly Ze? I kept calling her a HIM on Facebook, and my Linda said, what if it’s a girl. Ze is one of many gender fluid pronouns. I respect they/them, although I get confused with the first use every time wondering if there were more than one person and I missed something in the conversation. The second butterfly was Zeb. Also a girl. But I lost track of who was who and stopped naming them until Houdini. 🙂
Would you like to see the video I made of Ze’s eclosing? I posted it on YOUTUBE
Here are some additional resources to learn about raising Monarch Butterflies:
If you are interested in purchasing any of the pieces inspired by Ze, please email or call. I have not posted these on my website yet to give my newsletter readers first opportunity. The price includes taxes and delivery or shipping. Please note, the paintings will ship after the silicone is cured, which will be about 2 weeks.
Keep on the lookout for our delicate friends, 🙂 Dori