When we moved into our house last fall, the previous owners left us a really great note with all kinds of details about the house that we wouldn't have known otherwise. We have a sprinkler system to water the lawn and the note said something along the lines of "the sprinkler system can also can be used to distribute pesticide for insect control but we never used that because we like all the butterflies in the garden." Bugs are really one of the worst things about this area, so when I read that part I said to Steve, "well I like butterflies as much as the next person, but we're putting bug spray in that sprinkler!"
Fast forward six months and I have changed my opinion.
In early March we started noticing caterpillars on our milkweed, and Ella and I were both really interested in them and would go out a few times a day to check on them and see what they were up to.
I started researching monarch life cycles and how to raise butterflies and learned that it was really pretty easy, and that they actually have a better chance of survival if you raise them versus leaving it up to nature (only a very small percentage in the wild make it from egg to butterfly because so many predators eat them). Ella has been asking for another pet, so this seemed like a perfect little project for us.
We collected 4 caterpillars from our milkweed plants - 1 was about 2" long and plump, so I knew he'd be ready to make his chrysalis pretty quickly, and the other 3 were less than an inch long and still thin.
The big guy, who Ella named Buddy, climbed away from the leaves and up to the top of the container that first night, so we separated him from the others. Once a caterpillar makes its chrysalis you don't want to disturb it, but the little guys need lots of care with changing their leaves and cleaning out their container a few times a day, so it's best to separate them by their size and growth stage.
Once we moved him into his new jar, he went right to the top
Cleaning out their containers and giving them fresh leaves
After a few days, the big guy hung in a J shape from the top of the container, which is the first step in making the chrysalis.
I kept checking on him to see what it would look like when he made the chrysalis but I missed it -- Sometime between going upstairs after dinner and bath time and Ella's bedtime, here is what he created!
I called Ella down from bed to check it out, all three of us were so excited. I could barely believe that it was that quick and where did all that bright green come from? It's really amazing. Then, the waiting began for that one, and we knew he'd stay in there for 10-14 days, with very little action in the meantime.
The little guys, which Ella named Noah, New, and Whisker, started growing quickly and ate a LOT (just like the book!).
We left for NC and gave Steve all the instructions for our little friends while we were gone. We came home to 2 new chrysalises (the third one had escaped).
The weekend we got home, Buddy emerged. I was very glad we were back in time! He came out over night and this is what we saw when we came down in the morning, you can see his wings still stuck together.
He hung like that for a few hours and then started to flap and extend his wings a little bit.
You are supposed to release them once they are fully mobile and it's over 70 degrees out, so we brought him outside that afternoon.
Funny enough, once "Buddy" turned into a butterfly, Ella renamed him "Princess."
There she goes!
And this amazed me as well, this is what was left behind of the chrysalis once she emerged.
A few days later, one of our little guys had emerged, and had already spread his wings, so I released him early that morning because it was warm and he was eager to get going.
When I opened his container to let him out, I noticed how far along the other chrysalis was, and couldn't believe what it now looked like -- the color had changed completely and I could clearly see the wings folded in there.
I brought him into my office and put him on my desk, with the thought that there was no way I'd miss him emerging, and I was excited to watch. As timing would have it, I had two long calls in a row and was on the phone and too busy to pay attention to him for about 2 hours. When I finally got off, here is what I saw!
It was really an incredible process to observe and even after watching it up close for several weeks, I am still fascinated by it. We didn't take in any new caterpillars after that first group because we were getting ready to leave for vacation for a week.
Unfortunately, our milkweed could not keep up with the demand of all these very hungry caterpillars. When we got back from our trip, the leaves were almost all gone and the plants were covered in caterpillars. If you look closely in this picture, you can see how many there are - I count at least 8, there could be more.
We have found a few more chrysalises in some funny places around the yard --
Attached to Ella's swing set
On the pool wall
This past weekend the last of the leaves from the milkweed had been eaten, so I cut the whole thing back. I am hopeful that it will grow back and we'll get some more caterpillars and butterflies this season!