Lucky

buttefly-smile

It has been trying hard to snow. The grey sky sends down light showers of snowflakes that dissolve as they reach the ground. Nothing settles.

My husband and I had a loss over Christmas and New Year. In some ways it has made me grateful for January, which is often a good time of the year to stay indoors and away from the rest of the world. But the cold is often bitterest when spring is around the corner and then I will have to go outside again. The bees will be starting up, the pond will need cleaning, and the birds have already begun to nest.

I was pottering in the kitchen the other day when for some reason I remembered that something had been missing. A butterfly nursery had sat on the kitchen work surface late last summer. I never had the opportunity to raise butterflies when I was younger and had thought why not now?

The caterpillars had arrived in a small cardboard box through the post in August. There were five caterpillars in a plastic cup with a layer of food at the bottom. The instructions were quite simple: keep the caterpillars at a temperature of 21–23°C and wrap the cup in a blanket at night to stay warm. All being well, the caterpillars should become chrysalides within 7–14 days. A two-week wait.

blanket

I kept my cup of caterpillars in a warm spot near a sunny window during the day. At night the cup was wrapped in a woolly scarf and placed in a small basket. Everything worked as it should. The caterpillars ate their food, got fatter and dutifully climbed to the top of the cup. They hung from the lid in a J-shape, shed their exoskeletons and hardened into chrysalides.

After three days the chrysalides were no longer moving. It was time to move them to the hatching habitat – a larger netted enclosure where the butterflies would spend their first few days. While I was moving them into their new home, I took a photo of the delicate golden-tipped chrysalides. This one wins the prize for caterpillar beauty pageant.

gold-tips-small

The transformation didn’t take very long and one morning I found that my painted lady butterflies had emerged overnight. I fed them sugar water and fruit and allowed them to settle for a day before releasing them into the garden.

It was a hot sunny day when the butterflies flew away. That was just over six months ago and we had had a loss around that time too. All the butterflies were eager to stretch their wings and explore the buddleia I had planted in the garden. All but one butterfly remained. This butterfly’s wing had been broken when it had emerged from its chrysalis and it would never fly.

The instructions said that if a butterfly was damaged it was best to put it in a spot in the garden and let nature do the rest. I felt sorry for the butterfly – it wasn’t its fault that it couldn’t fly and surely it deserved a bit more life. So I put it back inside the habitat and returned it to the kitchen work surface.

lucky-feeding

Lucky – I didn’t know whether the butterfly was a male or female, let’s say it was a male – lived for about five weeks in the habitat. I bought some pot plants for him to climb on and hide within the foliage, and fed sugar water and fruit each day. His favourite treat was a fresh cluster of orange-ball buddleia from which he would meticulously suck up the nectar of every single flower. On occasion he was content to sit on my hand and lick up the sugar syrup.

On a warm day I put the habitat outside by the myrtle tree and lavender bush. Lucky would come out from within the foliage almost immediately and climb to the top of a plant. He then sat there quietly and watched the world go by.

butterfly-foliage-small

All this effort for a little butterfly might seem quite strange to some people, but it was nice to have something to nurture. I felt quite sorry when one day Lucky sat at the bottom of his habitat and didn’t move again. In some ways he didn’t have a very lucky start in life, but I hope he was luckier than most broken-winged butterflies.

In a couple of months the garden will start to blossom. I wonder if last year’s butterflies laid any eggs beneath the ivy leaves and whether we will see more painted ladies flying about.

butterfly-flight

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27 thoughts on “Lucky

  1. Such a lovely story! I do hope they have rewarded you by hiding away in a chrysalis somewhere. I like your buddleia, the bees like it too, I’m told. I am hoping to source some from a friend’s garden this year. Amelia

    • Thank you Amelia. I’ve been offline for a while and Lucky the butterfly’s story seemed the best to start off the year. If you can source the orange ball variety of buddleia, I’m told the bees like it best. Lucky got very excited when I cut a flower head for his habitat – if shaking a lot and climbing all over the flower is a sign of butterfly ‘excitement’. All the best, Emma 🙂

  2. You did a lovely thing for Lucky. Your story reminds me of looking after silk moth caterpillars as a child. They wouldn’t have survived in the garden so once they hatched we let the moths fly about in the house at night. They mated and for years afterwards we found their eggs in all sorts of crevices. I visited our bees on Saturday, they still have fondant. The nuc bees are amazingly active.

    • Moths are beautiful creatures also. So glad the nuc bees are cosy as they had such a hard time last year. Hopefully this year will be better for them and they will have more queen success!

  3. What a wonderful story, and I echo someone else’s thoughts here within the comments, about Good Karma.. And you are certainly a friend of the Nature Kingdom and the devas of the insect kingdom in particular.. 🙂 Whom I know will reward you with all the efforts you put into protecting them.. .. Loved the photos.. And I spotted a Peacock Butterfly only last week.. and I thought that was early.. 🙂 xxx

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