The labor behind the subtle beat of a butterfly's wings often goes unappreciated by youthful onlookers. A miraculous metamorphosis must take place before the fleeting little flitter graces your garden. To fully appreciate the gentle flight of a butterfly, witness the amazing transformation by providing caterpillars with their very own haven. Mom and dad will be as interested as the kids.
A butterfly's most vulnerable time is spent developing in its chrysalis. A custom-made box offers a safe place for the chrysalis to mature while it hangs helplessly for one to two weeks. This one at Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain, Georgia, was built for that purpose. Use our diagram to build your own.
Three sides of the box are screened for easy viewing and ventilation. The back sliding wall was painted white to deter caterpillars from forming their chrysalises where they could be injured when opening.
Feeding caterpillars takes some trial and error. Finicky ones may consume only one type of plant their whole lives. Luckily their favorite meals are rapid-growing herbs. Black swallowtails prefer parsley, dill, and fennel. Wild ginger is a favorite of pipevine swallowtails, while sulphurs and whites prefer clover for their meals.
Offer a potted herb in your box. While gobbling up the food, the caterpillar will decide when it is ready to form its chrysalis. The metamorphosis may take a week or more to complete, depend-ing upon the species. A butterfly's patterns may be visible through the casing. The box allows close examination of this process.
The new butterfly will emerge from its case with soft and floppy wings, and it must have some time to pump fluid into its veins. This can take a few minutes for small butterflies or hours for larger ones. Once its wings are strong enough to support itself in flight, you can release the wondrous creature. If you have a few butterfly favorites planted in your yard, it may not be the last time you see your incredible friend.
Room for Rent
If your yard is short on caterpillars, Insect Lore offers live Painted Lady caterpillars. Call 1-800-548-3284 for a catalog or visit the Web site at www.insectlore.com.