Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Painted Lady Butterflies

My grandchildren sent my mother, their great-grandmother, a marvelous gift for Mother’s Day (with the help of their mother). The two oldest boys, ages 5 and 7, giggled and told her a mysterious package would arrive soon and she must be careful about removing it from the box. She must not open the jar.

When the box arrived, we carefully took the jar out and set it on the table to read the booklet that came with it. The jar contained five Painted Lady butterfly babies. They were charcoal gray—very plain-looking and wormish, as caterpillars often are. The directions said we should set the jar somewhere out of heat and direct sunlight for about a week, while they crawled around and ate the nutritious brown stuff in the bottom. A net butterfly cage came along with them.

By about the tenth day, they had all climbed up and attached themselves upside down to the paper on the underside of the jar lid. They grew shorter than before, and they turned goldish-brown as they became chrysalides. At that point, we very carefully removed the lid, took out the round piece of paper, and pinned it to the side of the butterfly cage.

About five days later, we noticed one of the chrysalides was missing. Amazing! It had turned into a beautiful gold, brown, and white butterfly. Perching on the side of the cage, it was waiting for its wings to dry.

The instructions told us to then place a large flower, preferably a carnation, in the bottom of the cage and sprinkle it with sugar-water. I bought a carnation at the local florist’s for a dollar; we cut the stem short and put it in a small bowl to leave plenty of room for butterflying.

Within two days, four of the chrysalides had hatched (I suppose “hatched” is the right word) and the four new Painted Ladies were flitting about and landing on the carnation. My mother wheeled her chair to the back door and opened the cage to release them. Three of them fluttered away immediately, but one stayed in the open cage for a few minutes before leaving.

This was a wonderful experience for my mother; she loved watching the caterpillars become butterflies. Only God, the Chief Architect of butterfly birth, could plan such a process.

**You can order butterfly rearing kits at this linked Swallowtail Farms site. The picture comes from this nature site.

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