Butterflies and Caterpillars Oh My!

Gulf Fritillary

The late start out the door is irritating, since I planned to get up with the sun, sip coffee in my lawn chair while watching the first butterfly in my new butterfly garden, the Gulf Fritillary, emerge. Yesterday the chrysalis twisted into a tight curl and I wondered: was he struggling or impatient? I mentioned to my friends over last night’s late dinner that today might be the day. Today marks eight days since the chrysalis formed.
Of course, the first thing I find after stepping outside is the passion vine. I peer deeply into where the Gulf Fritillary chrysalis is hidden. I see the underside of his wings! They remind me of pieces of finely cut stained glass of white, brown, silver, black, and orange, arranged in a perfect mosaic.
He looks to be well over two inches long, so I know his wings have filled with hemolymph. When a butterfly emerges, his wings are small and crumpled. I would have loved to see the entire process. I notice meconium (waste) on a stick on the ground underneath him. It is the color of blood.
His wings fit tightly together behind his body, drying out and straightening as he rests and gathers energy. This is the most vulnerable time for him. He is safe deep within the plant and I have a meeting to attend, otherwise I would pull up my chair and wait for him to move. I reluctantly drive away.
By the time I make it back home a couple of hours later he has flown. I imagine him flitting around the neighborhood, sipping sweet nectar from various blooms while searching  for a mate. I am very disappointed to have missed his takeoff.
Something moves on the passion vine: a Gulf Fritillary caterpillar! How could I have missed it? It could not have come with the plant three weeks ago. An egg must have been laid while the vine was at my home. I am gifted a second chance to see a Gulf Fritillary flying for the first time, a couple of weeks from now.
Three of the Zebra Longwing chrysalides should open tomorrow, and the fourth the following day. I hope to see them emerge and will be up early for the event.
As I check the Passion vine for dryness, I notice another caterpillar. I search the vine over and find six more Gulf Fritillary caterpillars of all sizes! They are alive and breeding prolifically in my new butterfly garden.
I hop in the car and head to The Butterfly Estates to buy a couple more organic nectar plants in preparation for all the colorful fliers who soon will be searching for a delicious treat. I purposefully arrive about thirty minutes before the weekly butterfly release. This is my first time to witness it.
I take photos with my phone and ask about the beauties to be released. Over twenty have emerged today and anxiously flutter their wings and rest in a huge seven-foot high butterfly cage. It is made of netting on three sides and one side is made of plastic to better see the brilliant patterns, shapes, and colors of the lovelies inside.
About ten other visitors, including three small children, witness the release of the gorgeous gliders. Palamedes Swallowtail, Zebra Swallowtail, Orange Barred Sulphur, Monarch, Eastern Black Swallowtail, Julia, and White Peacock take off gracefully. A beautiful mating pair of Pipevine Swallowtails light on a nearby plant, uninterested in human activity. They are focused on their lovemaking.

Two nectar plants and one host plant ride home with me. The sweet almond is almost overwhelming to my senses. My new butterfly garden is coming together nicely. Today is a good day. I have been blessed by the simple noticing of butterflies.

Copyright 2015 Patricia Westbrook All Rights Reserved



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