Saturday, July 7, 2007

First Butterfly

Today the first of the swallowtails emerged from its pupa in our butterfly house:

We set him free in the back yard this afternoon. He fluttered across the lawn and visited two rosebushes before leaving the yard for the big world beyond. You can see one other pupa on the back wall in the photo. We still have plenty of big fat caterpillars devouring dill and parsley and pooping at an astonishing rate. (I had never really considered the scatological implications of keeping the Very Hungry Caterpillar in a small enclosed space!)

By the way, we ended up building a very different butterfly house from the one pictured in my previous post. This one is made from a cardboard box, with pieces of fiberglass screen taped into place over the windows. (The instructions can be found in Nature Smart by Gwen Diehn.)

One thing that I haven't been doing that I need to start doing is lining the bottom with paper towels so that the poop (frass) doesn't build up, creating a moldy environment. I keep their greens in a small vase, narrow necked to prevent any caterpillars falling into the water. A second vase is handy for replenishing the dill/parsley every few days. I take out the old vase full of greens, caterpillars and all and set it on the kitchen counter. I prepare a fresh bouquet in the second vase, then I carefully transfer any stems with caterpillars on them to the new food supply. (It's important to move the caterpillars by cutting off the stem or leaf they are standing on and carrying that. Pulling them off the branch with your fingers can tear off their prolegs, the false legs at the back of the caterpillar's body used for gripping and climbing.) Then the old vase is washed out and ready for the next feeding.

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