Butterfly Eggs!

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Fascination pulls me into a vortex of curiosity. I wonder why I never noticed butterfly eggs, caterpillars, or chrysalides before now. Perhaps we are not supposed to learn everything about everything in one lifetime. It leaves room for excitement.


The Butterfly Estates mesmerize me during my visit on April 25, 2015. The women I meet there demonstrate an intense devotion to raising and releasing butterflies humanely and organically. I feel the passion in their eyes and tune into the excitement in their voices as they explain and show me the life stages of a multitude of colorful dainties. They accomplish their focused mission by nurturing the butterflies all the way through to release day each week. They invite the community to play a part for a brighter today and more beautiful tomorrow with butterflies playing a vital role. I am instantly hooked.


The greenhouse is a calm haven in the middle of the city. Never have I seen so many butterflies in one place. Soothing music plays in the background and the light rumble of a nearby waterfalls echoes rhythmically from the koi pond nearby. It causes me to slow down and absorb the scenery. The pond supports four turtles, small koi, and a Butterfly Koi. Very fitting.


I borrow an identification chart to match up the real thing to the name and sketch. I am familiar with the black and white striped Zebra Longwing, the state butterfly of Florida, and the Monarch’s fame for migrating the longest distance of any butterfly. The Monarch’s near endangered situation, due to lack of habitat and use of pesticides by humans, causes much concern among butterfly enthusiasts.


By the time I am nearly done with my stroll through the greenhouse, I have identified several different butterflies. My short list includes Malachite, White Peacock, Great Southern White, and Orange Barred Sulphur, along with those mentioned elsewhere in this post.


I hear myself ask about starting a butterfly garden at home. I already have swamp milkweed seeds sprouted and growing specifically for Monarchs. Adding more to this endeavor is a stretch for me, since I have not have all that much luck with plants in the past. I’ve had good luck with orchids and Christmas cactus on my lanai.


As I drive away, tucked safely in the back of my car are four plant (two host plants and two nectar plants) to get me started. I learn from one of the employees who kindly carries two of the plants to my car that a bonus has come with my passion vine:  butterfly eggs! Three butterflies are known to lay their eggs on the passion vine: Zebra Longwing, Gulf Fritillary, and Julia Heliconian.

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Giddiness rushes through my bloodstream. I wonder which one will appear in a few short weeks. The employee does not share further details and I do not ask. We both want it to be a surprise.


After placing the plants in a protected spot where they get daily sun right out the front door, I count the eggs. Ten tiny yellow spots are huddled on two tender leaves at the tip of the plant. By the next day I become concerned that a predator might eat them so I cover them with a net bag and tie it to the lattice supporting the passion vine. Wrong move!


By the following afternoon, the eggs have hatched into caterpillars and appear to be struggling. I carefully untie the bag and remove it, then strategically place the tiny creatures on various young leaves around the plant so they won’t have to compete for food. Wrong move! To my dismay, a few of them fall off my finger. I feel horribly sad! All but one looks like they will die soon. What have I done?


If I want the rest to survive, I must rethink my selfish need for involvement. I must become an observer and photographer only. Oh, and a plant waterer. Other than that, hands off!

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On May Day I count two caterpillars. No, three caterpillars. By the following morning I count four, then five. Five caterpillars! I hope there are both males and females since I don’t see many butterflies in my neighborhood. The little ones happily munch on tender leaves and then rest. I feel relief and water the plants, sprinkling a little on the leaves. The caterpillars seem to like it.


By May 4 the large caterpillar has turned darker than the rest. Two days later the big guy hides deep in the plant along a thick stem and had stopped eating. It takes a while before I find him. By the next day he has morphed into a chrysalis. I verify through photos taken with my cell phone, as I stand nearly on my head, blood rushing to my face, pushing leaves carefully aside with my fingers, that he must be a Gulf Fritillary! Will I be so lucky as to see him emerge from his chrysalis? It will take one to two weeks.


A few days later three of the other four have become chrysalides, Zebra Longwing for sure. The bottom of their chrysalis looks like two rabbit ears. Unmistakable. I read that they fly more methodically and slowly. Attitude. They know how to stop and drink the nectar. Latitude. They are a lovely butterfly and tend to live longer than the rest, four to six months on average, so I hope to enjoy their company for some time after they emerge. With any luck, there will be two males and two females. Perhaps the females will return to lay eggs on the passion vine. I hope so.


I look closely at the chrysalides and noticed brilliant gold specs in strategic places on the chrysalides. The detail is fascinating even from my upside down viewpoint. On May 8, the last caterpillar is in position for turning into a chrysalis. They all follow the same scenario: eat a large meal, find the way to a (partially) hidden place underneath a leaf and attach their hind end with silk to the leaf tip, leaf center, or stem during the daylight. They rest in a letter J position, head down and squirm and wiggle. By the next morning their chrysalis is mostly, but not fully formed. It takes another day or so to harden into a protective shell. The magic continues.


I look forward to the next few days for a well-timed glimpse of a chrysalis breaking open and a brand new butterfly emerging into the world.   

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Mom’s Poem

Patty - wink

The most significant relationships are never forgotten. I am fortunate to have had Mom in my physical life for about fifty-three years and six months, including the time inside her womb. I knew her intimately for nine months longer than I knew anyone on this planet. I learned to recognize her voice. I slept to the beat of her heart. I felt her emotions.

She gave birth to me the same year she turned 36. Mom met Dad, who was in the Air Force, through mutual friends. Their first date was a USO dance. They married several months later, on Christmas Day, 1943.

I grew up listening to music from the Big Band Era and loved seeing my parents get ready to go out dancing at the Supper Club. I had gone inside the building a couple of times. There were booths and tables and a huge wooden dance floor. My favorite parts were the ambient ceiling lights. They were recessed so only the light glowed and reflected off of what appeared to this small girl to be a giant upside-down oval bathtub.

Mom made Christmas so much fun for our family. We decorated the tree a couple of weeks before Christmas, with glass bulbs of all shapes and colors that had been in the family for years, and a few bubble lights that slowly made their way into history. We used the C-7 multicolored lights on the tree. Silver tinsel strands, placed a few at a time on each branch, reflected off of the colorful lights and made the meticulous job worth all the effort.

As the days slowly progressed toward Christmas, wrapped presents magically appeared under the tree. Little by little, by the time Christmas Eve arrived, the tree was circled by various sizes and shapes of wrapped packages with hand-curled ribbon, and a tag made out in Mom’s handwriting.

We always opened our presents on Christmas Eve after dark, around 9 p.m. First, we piled into the family car and went to candlelight service. By the time we got back home, Santa had already visited! I couldn’t believe how we barely missed him each year!

On Christmas morning, Mom got up really early to prepare the turkey and make all the rest of the dinner. She did it all on her own. She didn’t have time for children under her feet in the kitchen. It was too distracting from the task of ensuring everything was ready at the same time for our late afternoon Christmas dinner.

The table was beautifully set with a white lace tablecloth, real silver utensils that tasted odd, the best china, fancy goblets for water, a beautiful green pine bough centerpiece with red ribbon and red taper candles, and all the steaming food filled in the gaps.

Mom’s deviled eggs were the best ever! Her turkey stuffing was like nobody’s. It was delicious! Her mashed potatoes and gravy were always smooth and yummy! And the relish tray! Dill and sweet pickles along with green and black olives. It didn’t get any better!

The grownups sat at the table and the children sat at a card table nearby that sported a poinsettia-flowered tablecloth. I loved being at the little table! That’s where I learned how to put black olives on each of my tiny fingers before plucking them off with my teeth, one by one.

It’s been six Christmases since Mom left earth for a new adventure. She and dad would have been married 71 years today. I celebrate Christmas a little bit differently now, but Mom’s spirit is always with me.  An angel statue next to her photo near my own little Christmas tree reminds me she is in excellent company.

The end is never the end
It allows space
Burgeons
Into a new beginning

May your own Christmas be full of joy and peace, along with much love.

Note: the photo above is from when I first learned how to wink. Merry Christmas!

Copyright 2014 Patricia Westbrook All Rights Reserved