Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Chrysalis Crack'd: Birth of a Butterfly

Unfortunately I did not capture our Spicebush Swallowtail's actual emergence on film. In fact, we didn't even see it. Reina and I were sitting at the kitchen counter sharing a version of Elvis's favorite (peanut butter and banana on toast, drizzled with honey) when I looked out at the caterpillar jar on the porch.

"Sheesh, that black label on the towel that the jar is sitting on always makes me thing something happened in there. This time it's actually moving."

Wait for it.

Reina looked. "It is moving!" We ran outside to see. The chrysalis had cracked open.

The cracked chrysalis, already turning brownish-
yellow a few hours after the butterfly emerged.

We watched the wings expanding as fluid poured into the veins.

Above the chrysalis there was a newly-emerged butterfly, still climbing to a higher perch to let her folded wings droop down to form.

For the most part she stayed still but she did start moving higher and higher, eventually perching on the stocking ceiling. We decided we should place her somewhere natural where she could, if she chose, start fueling up - we figured after a lifetime of eating leaves she was ready to sip nectar for the first time.

Reina reached in to let her climb on her finger, but the swallowtail had other plans. She climbed on, then kept climbing, seeming to want the highest point possible. We finally succeeded in placing her on a flower, choosing a Bee Balm. Patches of these Bee Balm are nectar hot spots, akin to the pubs in Ireland or perhaps malt shops in 1950's America. We've seen everything from butterflies and bees to hummingbirds and wasps, dozens at a time, refueling and socializing.

Not yet interested in food she rests on a well-worn Bee Balm.

And as she perched, mostly still, what an awesome opportunity to photograph her.

Proboscis still coiled, not yet probing for nectar, the veins on
the wings prominently filled with fluid. That fluid will be
retracted into the body once the wings are fully spread.

I'm not sure how easily you can sex these butterflies, but they say the
blue (female) or blue-green (male) band on the hindwing indicates
the sex. If true, sex will be determined by how your monitor is set.

Eventually she climbed to the top of the flower head and slowly, for the first time, beat her wings. It must be an amazing but bizarre feeling for a once-was caterpillar to suddenly have appendages it never knew, or could even know about.

The first wing beats of Sara.

Eventually she made a short flight on to the lawn, at which point we helped her back to the Purple Coneflowers. She took another short flight and perched on the lattice underneath the Trumpet Creeper where she was a bit more secluded and left alone by the patrolling wasps and bees. A couple of hours later she flew out, then up, circled the rooftop and headed to parts unknown. Empty nest again.

Except we kept seeing her over the next few days in various parts of the yard. Apparently she'll live anywhere between two days and two weeks, hopefully mating and laying eggs . . . back on our spicebush, if we're lucky.



deejbrown said...

You captured a tender moment of creation that pass us all by--may we be more aware....

noflickster said...

You said a mouthful there! This was easy since it was all in captivity, sitting where we could watch day in and day out. While we've been more aware of other caterpillars, butterflies, and other assorted insects we've never found a chyrsalis or cocoon in the wild. But that's mother nature for you, it wouldn't do any good if they were easy to spot!

Thanks again for dropping by and commenting!

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