COPING WITH SELF-ISOLATION BY RAISING BUTTERFLIES

malachite butterfly (credit: Dreamstime)

In my search for finding exciting things to keep myself busy during our continued self-isolation during this Covid pandemic, I remembered how much I enjoyed watching painted lady caterpillars change into butterflies when my daughter was little. We did this a few times in our home and then released the butterflies into the yard. We still have the butterfly net “cage”, so I decided I would clean it out with the recommended ten percent bleach/water solution to raise butterflies again now. There was something indescribable about watching the butterfly life cycle unfold before our eyes. We ordered the caterpillar, watched it eat the food source that it came with, a certain mush-in-a-cup and then watched it turn into a pupa before becoming the butterfly.

I ordered some painted lady caterpillars in the mush-in-a-cup to start with today. They will arrive in just a few days, and I am so very excited. The painted lady caterpillars take one to three weeks to reach the pupa stage, then the pupa takes about ten days to turn into the butterfly.

The painted lady butterfly is orange, black, and white, an impressive sight. These butterflies are very easy to raise without a host plant and often come in “kits” with a food source. Often, this painted lady is the first experience a person has with raising butterflies, as these are the most common in classrooms, kits, etc.

(photo courtesy of Nebraska Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources Cropwatch)

I decided that I wanted to delve a little more deeply into raising butterflies than muck-in-a-cup, so I did a little more research. My favorite butterfly, the Blue Morpho butterfly, isn’t found in these parts of Florida naturally, so it seems like an ecological no-no to raise them for release in my yard. I decided, however, that I wanted to see the WHOLE butterfly life cycle, from egg to caterpillar, then from caterpillar to pupa, then from pupa to butterfly. I also decided that I wanted to raise something other than a common orange butterfly. I found out that the eggs are laid on a certain “host plant” that can be different from butterfly to butterfly. The caterpillar, when it emerges, also eats the host plant with a voracious appetite. Once the butterfly emerges from the pupa stage, it eats things OTHER than the host plant. Some butterflies require nectar from a different plant, some butterflies require sugar water, and some require rotting fruit.

I finally decided that I would raise either the malachite butterfly (green and black butterfly pictured above) or the zebra long winged butterfly, a black and yellowish-white striped butterfly. I learned that the host plant for the malachite butterfly is the green shrimp plant or the Mexican petunia, which was a bit hard to come by in these parts, as both are highly invasive plants in the landscape. I finally found a local supplier for the Mexican petunia, which I plan to keep in a pot in the yard to contain it. I also found a local supplier for the corky-stemmed passion flower, which is the host plant for the zebra long winged butterfly.

zebra long winged butterfly (credit:Dreamstime)

I plan to raise the painted lady muck-in-a-cup caterpillars while I grow the host plants for the zebra long winged butterfly and malachite butterfly into sizable plants in the meantime, and I can’t wait to delve into something a little more complicated. I am told it is best to raise the different species of butterflies separately if I have a small cage, so I need to simply decide which one to raise first, then look forward to raising the other species afterward.

On a side note, I was walking with my best friend at a closed outdoor shopping center at an appropriate social distance the other night, discussing how I was looking forward to raising butterflies. I also told her that, if it all went well, I planned on raising some blue butterflies on the first anniversary of my my Mother’s death in October as a special remembrance of her that day. Blue was my Mother’s favorite color, and she would be delighted in hearing all about my new butterfly interest, so it seemed like a good way to keep her memory alive in my heart. My Mother was always interested in hearing all about whatever I was interested in. I told my friend I was having a bit of trouble sleeping this week, as this was my first Mother’s Day without my beautiful Mother, and my heart was a bit heavy from time to time this week. No word of a lie, the song that played on the loud speaker in the closed out door shopping mall just SECONDS after talking to my friend about my Mother and the butterflies caused us both to stop in our tracks and took our breath away…….

“So I put my hands up
They’re playing my song,
And the butterflies fly away
Noddin’ my head like, yeah
Movin’ my hips like, yeah
I got my hands up,
They’re playin’ my song
You know I’m gonna be okay……”

-Miley Cyrus, “Party In The USA”

Coincidence? Maybe not. What is true is that I knew my Mother will live in my heart forever, and I really would be okay.

Find and celebrate those moments that take your breath away and stop you in your tracks. Hug those you love while you can. Know also that we all will be okay, no matter what is going on right now in our lives…..

Life is good; carpe diem, friends…………….

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