A STROKE OF SERENDIPITY WITH A SULPHUR BUTTERFLY TONIGHT

(photo:Dreamstime)

Today was one of those days. One of those days that happen every so often when you’re not quite on your game so to speak. One of those days where at least one thing isn’t going quite your way or at least the way you want. That’s how the earlier part of the day was going for me. Normally I look on the bright side with a glass that is “half full”, even if the proverbial glass is cracked, chipped, or leaking water so to speak. Today my glass was a little less than half full this morning.

I decided to take a walk after dinner to clear my head, which is something I normally don’t do until our Florida evening gets a little cooler after dark. Usually my husband comes with me, but tonight I decided to go alone because he was working on a project in the garage at the time I wanted to take a stroll. I decided to take a shorter route tonight, going on a street I normally never walk through. I glanced down at the sidewalk for a moment and couldn’t believe my eyes. A very large green and yellow caterpillar was right near my feet. This is the first butterfly caterpillar I have ever found, and it was a fantastic find.

Cloudless sulphur caterpillar (photo courtesy of Jerry Butler, University of Florida, http://entnemdept.ufl.edu/)

The caterpillar was so close, in fact, that I almost stepped on it. I wasn’t sure what kind of caterpillar it was, but I decided to pick it up with a pond frond (some caterpillars sting) to take it home to put it in one of our butterfly habitats. I needed to research what kind of caterpillar it was, as butterfly caterpillars are usually very specific as to what plant they will eat in their caterpillar stage. My feeling was this green caterpillar with a yellow head might be one of the yellow “sulphur” butterflies that are common in these parts. I know that the sulphur caterpillar changes colors, depending on if it eats the green leaves of a cassia plant or the yellow flowers of the same plant. As luck would have it, I had very recently purchased a Bahama senna (cassia) plant because the next butterfly I want to raise was going to be a sulphur caterpillar, as I could release this butterfly into our yard if that is the one I raised next. I looked for several days over the past week for a retail supplier for either sulphur eggs or caterpillars but found none had any in stock currently.

Bahama senna is a native Florida shrub, which can be a host plant to the sulphur butterflies.

(photo courtesy of Shirley Denton, FNPS.org)

I offered the caterpillar some of my plant, and he didn’t eat it at all. When I saw him climbing on the sides of the habitat, we put in some twigs to the habitat, as I wondered if he was getting ready to form his chrysalis. I know that caterpillars don’t usually eat anything right before they begin their transformation to the next stage. We watched the caterpillar move about the habitat for a while and checked in on him about an hour and a half later. We were amazed to find he crawled up high onto one of the twigs and started exhibiting the “J” formation, where his body bends in the shape of the letter J just before he changes to a chrysalis.

I try to learn something new every day if I can, and tonight I read about the chrysalis formation in a bit more depth. I learned that some caterpillars change color right in their fifth instar (stage) before changing into a chrysalis. At the time I am writing this, the caterpillar has changed and is no longer green but more of a yellow or orange/tan color.

cloudless sulphur butterfly caterpillars can be green as well (photo courtesy of Marc C. Minno, University of Florida, http://entnemdept.ufl.edu/creatures/bfly/bfly2/cloudless_sulphur.htm)

I learned that the point of attachment of the caterpillar to the place where the caterpillar makes his chrysalis is actually a point with many “hooks” if you magnified it enough to see (the cremaster). Also, I was shocked to learn that the chrysalis isn’t just the caterpillar wrapped up. Rather, certain hormones in the caterpillar kick some enzymes into gear at the right time, and the caterpillar actually “digests” itself with the exception of a few parts that function almost like “stem cells” , called imaginal cells, leaving behind a puddle of ooze. I guess that explains how I thought I “lost” a malachite caterpillar in a habitat recently just before I found it had changed into a chrysalis.

yellow caterpillar in the habitat starting his “J” formation prior to turning into a chrysalis

This remarkable mechanism that changes the caterpillar to a butterfly is fascinating, albeit a bit creepy. Okay, it really is pretty gruesome. Yet this process in which the caterpillar changes to a chrysalis is like all the parts to a well-rehearsed orchestra makes beautiful music, almost effortlessly because it is such a well-coordinated event.

So, finding my sulphur (I think it was a sulphur) caterpillar was a stroke of serendipity during this summer evening. Finding a butterfly like this on a day like today started could be coincidence. Could be fate. Could be Divine intervention. Could be good karma. One thing is for certain; it definitely is something that takes my breath away, and that’s always a good thing.

photo of a sulphur butterfly on lantana, a common Florida nectar plant (photo: Dreamstime)

Life is good. Savor a moment of serendipity this summer if you are quiet enough to hear it calling you. Carpe diem, friends……………..

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