MORE LESSONS LEARNED FROM A BUTTERFLY

Today my daughter, “Teen Traveler”, and I set out to journey towards South Florida to release the malachite butterflies we have been raising from caterpillars for several weeks now. Since this species lives in South Florida, we knew we had to do the right thing when we purchased the caterpillars and get them into the South Florida vicinity to release them. Since the lifespan of the butterfly is usually only two to four weeks, we knew we shouldn’t keep them very long after their metamorphosis into a butterfly.

We drove two counties away and released them near an orange grove, as they feed on rotting fruit and flower nectar, and we wanted to ensure they had plenty to eat. We had a bit of a certain indescribable sense of sadness when we were driving to let them go into the wild.

My daughter said she was sorry to see them go. I explained to her that the butterflies are like many beautiful people we encounter during our lives. People come into our lives, and people go from our lives when we change schools, jobs, cities, etc…Life changes. Life changes a lot. The people that we are fond of don’t always stay around forever. Sometimes even death separates us, but we are somehow in some way, or in many ways, touched by their presence when we had them in our lives. I told my daughter that we can learn a lot about life from raising our butterflies.

Lessons Learned:

  1. Like the butterflies that change forms from egg to several different types of caterpillars (instars) before assuming their final form, we, too, go through many changes and stages in our own lives. Sometimes we are not our most beautiful until we’ve gone through different stages within ourselves.
  2. People come and go in our lives, like the butterflies we raise, and we enjoy them while they are here. We try think about their release date, as we can enjoy the moments with them while we have them. All the moments.
  3. Sometimes the caterpillar hatchlings don’t make it to adulthood, despite our best efforts. Life is sometimes hard at times, but beautiful nonetheless.
  4. You have to work hard to find a place to blend in and settle, finding what you need, before you can become a chrysalis. Working hard helps. These caterpillars certainly were VERY busy.
  5. Sometimes we need rest, like a butterfly chrysalis, before we emerge as our best.
  6. Sometimes we want to stay holding on the warm hand that protects us before we find the strength to move on to do what we know we ultimately have to do. Staying on that warm hand for a while is good for a while, but then we have to find our own way as we become adults and move on to college, etc..
  7. Although the butterfly’s life is short, it always leaves behind something beautiful after it dies. The butterfly lives on, like us, in the generations that follow.
  8. We need to be very patient. Good things often take time.

My daughter held the butterflies in her hand in the butterfly cage during the whole ride to our release site. She was so gentle with them that it was such a tender moment whenever I glanced her way. When the engine to the car stopped, she asked if she could release them in the car before we released them into the wild. She thought it would be fun if they flew around the inside of the car for a while. We let them out of the cage in the car, but they didn’t fly around for some reason. I’m thinking that the car air conditioner was a possible reason, as the butterflies really like the temperature to be above eighty degrees before they fly.

My daughter gently lifted the butterflies onto her hand again when it was time to release them outside. She waited until they both flew away, having the peace of mind that they were well, and she somehow added something back into the circle of life. She was relieved that she didn’t damage their wings or legs when she touched them, too. I knew she didn’t, but she was concerned.

On the way home, we found a beach with few people on it and enjoyed some time together in the warm blue waters, laughing together and finding some shells.

“You tucked me in, turned out the lights
Kept me safe and sound at night
Little girls depend on things like that

Brushed my teeth and combed my hair had to drive me everywhere
You were always there when
I looked back…

…And when I couldn’t sleep at night
Scared things wouldn’t turn out right
You would hold my hand and sing to me

Caterpillar in the tree
How you wonder who you’ll be
Can’t go far but you can always dream
Wish you may and wish you might
Don’t you worry hold in tight
I promise you there will come a day
Butterfly fly away, butterfly fly away, butterfly fly away
Flap your wings now you can’t stay
Take those dreams and make them all come true

Butterfly fly away, butterfly fly away
We’ve been waiting for this day
All along and knowing just what to do
Butterfly, butterfly, butterfly, butterfly fly away…”

-“Butterfly Fly Away” by Billy Ray Cyrus

Life is good. Carpe diem, friends…………….

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…………….