Farming butterflies


Sometimes I think I’m stuck at 12 years old. I’m a perpetual kid. When I was a kid, caterpillars were my friends. I was allergic to them, but that didn’t stop me. My mom could always tell when I’d been playing with caterpillars; I’d come home with my eyes red and swollen.


I still love caterpillars. I have butterfly-friendly plants in my garden. Plants that are food for butterfly larvae. I have passionflower vines, which are food for the larvae of the gulf fritillary pictured above. I also have butterfly weed (also known as milkweed) which is food for the monarch butterfly larvae. The lovely lady above spent a couple of days floating around the yard, laying eggs on the milkweed.

Monarch Egg

Neither of those plants are beauty queens. Although the passionflowers are pretty interesting, the vine itself is kind of ugly and straggly, with a tendency to die in sections. Birds also eat the fruit and distribute the seed so it sprouts up in odd locations. The milkweed is straggly, too. After a stalk blooms and sets seed most of the leaves die and the seeds get float off and sprout all over the place. But I enjoy the butterflies enough to put up with the plants.

Also in my yard I have black ants. And black ants will eat the eggs, larvae and cocoons of the butterflies. So I often pick the leaves that have butterfly eggs on them and raise the resultant larvae to butterfly stage. This has been easy with the gulf fritillaries, but more problematic for the monarchs. Milkweed leaves dry up in just a few hours and newly hatched larvae will dry up with them. I finally came up with a solution. Get a cup of water, cover it saran wrap so the caterpillar doesn’t fall in and drown and poke a sprig of milkweed through the saran wrap. The milkweed stays alive long enough to get to a less vulnerable size. I can’t raise all of the caterpillars, but at least I can rescue a few from the ants and send them out into the world, hopefully to enchant someone else as much as they enchant me.

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