Saturday, August 24, 2013

Butterfly Tales

It's that time of year again when monarch butterflies lay their eggs on my red swamp milkweed. That would be fine, except the plants are in pots, for sale at our nursery. The little striped caterpillars aren't content staying invisible, eating the lower leaves; they want the flowers. So do the black solitary wasps, the butterflies, the bees, and the customers. Last year, the fight over who got the flowers grew intense. The caterpillars got the bad end of it. They all started dying.

I felt bad about it. I love butterflies, even though their offspring do eat my plants. So, armed with ice cream buckets and screen covers, I began kidnapping the baby caterpillars. They did well in the buckets. Within a few weeks, I had big orange butterflies. It was a lot of fun, and only cost me a few minutes a day. So when the season ended, I stashed the buckets in the back room to use again.

Butterflies of all kinds seem scarcer this summer. But the swamp milkweed remains popular, like a singles bar where lonely butterflies can hang out and sip nectar until they find a mate. Sometimes it's a long wait. One monarch grew so desperate he started chasing a great spangled fritillary. Later on, he must have found a proper mate, because shortly after that, I found my first monarch caterpillar. Out came the bucket again.
One of last year's butterflies prepares to take his first flight
That first caterpillar was soon joined by three others. What a hungry bunch they were! They seemed to know instinctively that the summer is ending and they must grow as fast as possible. The three bigger ones have now made chrysalises; a fourth will follow suit in a few days. I can't wait to balance the newborn butterflies on my finger and watch them take their first flight.