Archive for November, 2012

Frightening Butterfly Mishap … with a Happy Ending!

November 4, 2012

In my last post I documented how two of my Monarch caterpillars had made chrysalises — one on a small ledge near the bottom of the side of my house (“Caterpillar 1”), and one near the top of the wall dividing my yard from my neighbor’s (“Caterpillar 2”). Well, a few days ago Caterpillar 1 emerged from her chrysalis (she was a female!), climbed up the wall about 12 feet over a period of about three hours, and flew away. I wanted to film her maiden flight, but got bored when it took her so long, so I missed it.

Caterpillar 2 was in a better position for me to actually film his emergence from the chrysalis, being higher up and easier to film. Yesterday I was working all day in my garden (new fall plants, which I will blog about soon!), keeping an eye on the chrysalis, which was looking more and more ready to hatch. Here it is about 3:30 in the afternoon:

Alas, I was busy digging a hole for one of my plants when the butterfly took the opportunity to drop from the chrysalis — an inattention that amounted to about two minutes. When I looked over, there was the butterfly hanging from the chrysalis!  I’ve since looked at videos of the process, and apparently it happens very quickly — the butterfly just drops out of the chrysalis, grabbing the remains of the chrysalis with its feet. Its body is big and fat, gorged with fluid, which it then begins to pump into its wings — tiny at the beginning — to expand them.

By the time I looked over, its wings were almost normal size, though they were still soft and limp. The next thing the butterfly wants to do is climb up — it must climb up rather than down or sideways. It wants to get into a position where the wings are hanging down vertically behind it so it can complete the expansion of the wings.  So the butterfly started to climb up on the overhanging brick.  By this time I was filming. Then — all of a sudden, it fell! Apparently it could not get a good purchase on the slickish brick, and it plummeted to the ground, a good 5 or 6 feet. I was horrified!

Once on the ground, it frantically started crawling, dragging its limp and useless wings behind it. It kept climbing onto dry leaves, which were not stable enough to provide a good purchase, and instead of  making forward progress it would roll over onto its back, clutching the useless leaf. The weight of the sodden wings was pulling the leaf back toward the butterfly, rather than the butterfly forward over the leaf. I cannot describe my horror at witnessing this!

I found a stick and held the dry leaves down so it would make some progress. But it was not walking toward the wall, but away. It needed to find a vertical surface. I was panicked — how long could this go on before it damaged its wings? I decided to find something it could crawl onto, and then move it to a more suitable location. I found a bit of screen, and the butterfly crawled onto it. I then moved the screen onto my garden bench. This  was not the best thing, because it was not a vertical surface! I was not thinking very clearly. However, there was a washrag sitting folded on the bench, near the edge, and the butterfly was able to crawl onto the edge of the washrag and hang vertically.

There it sat for the next hour or so, furling and unfurling its proboscis, which I think is the mechanism by which it pumps fluid into the wings. But I noticed that there was a drop of orange liquid on one of its wings, as if there was a “leak” on that wing. I also noticed that liquid was dripping onto the ground beneath the bench — there was a small wet spot about an inch in diameter. This was very disturbing — was this further evidence that there was a “leak”?  I was worried that the butterfly would be unable to fly.

Nighttime was rapidly approaching, and I worried that it would be badly affected by the cool night air, so I decided to bring the butterfly indoors. I found a cardboard box and moved the butterfly into it, draping the washrag over the side of the box so that it would hang vertically. I then moved the box into my bedroom. The warmth of the indoors seemed to spur it to activity, and it started to slowly flap its wings. I thought this was a good sign! I left it alone for an hour or two.

When I went back into the bedroom, it was not in the box any more! I found it on my shoe a couple of feet away. I could not see how it could have gotten there except to fly. I felt heartened — but still did not know if it could fly normally enough to survive.

Since it apparently was able to fly, I decided to put a screen on the top of the box. I really didn’t want it flying around the house. My plan was to release it the next morning when the sun was out.

The next morning I took it out into the sun and peeled back the screen. The butterfly was sitting horizontally by this time. The wings looked to be a normal size, but were a bit “crinkled”.

The warmth of the sun again had a stimulating effect on the butterfly. He (I think it’s a male) began to flap his wings slowly, and then more quickly, and then — suddenly! — he was airborne! He flew around the garden for about 30 seconds and alighted on one of my trees. To say I was thrilled is an understatement!  His flight seemed completely normal to my eye. I was so happy!

Here’s a picture of him resting on the tree:

His wings are not completely normal — you can see the lower part of the right wing is a bit crumpled. And the rest of his wings are a bit wavy, not completely straight.

But after resting for a couple of minutes on the tree, he took off and flew down the block, looking like every other Monarch I’ve seen. So apparently his wings are still good enough that he can fly.

I have film of him falling off the wall and crawling around in the mulch on the ground. But it’s so disturbing I am not going to post it. Suffice it to say that all’s well that ends well, at least in this case!

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