Butterfly Saga Part IV: Butterfly vs. Predator

I hate having something on my list to check off and leaving it unchecked. I do it all the time. I think I almost do it to cause myself mental anguish, because it’s sometimes something so simple it’d take 5 minutes to do, yet I let it torture me for months. Some examples:
1. Fix my front screen door. It doesn’t close right. I just need to add the hydraulic thing on the bottom. Would probably take me (since I am not handy) like 2 hours. It’s been this way since last July and I think about it every time I go in and out of the house.
2. Clean out my wallet. I have 9,000 things in there I don’t need. I am probably having Costanza affect by now. “Can’t stand ya!”
3. This post.

So I know I am the only person who notices/cares that I never completed my caterpillar to butterfly experiment saga that I did with the kids this summer. You can go back and read “I“, “II“, and “III” here.
I am not going to drag this out. Here’s the anti-climatic ending:
Remember Spikes?

We put Spikes in the greenhouse on the passion flower vine that we bought just for him to consume. He ate and ate and he seemed pretty happy. Then he cocooned (picture needed) and was ready to be a butterfly. He was hanging from one of the leaves and we almost lost track of him. Then…..he was gone. Now I know you might be thinking, “Awwwww – he turned into a butterfly and flew away! Yay!”. No. We had the door to the greenhouse closed and it had only been about 2 days. Something ate Spike. A spider or something got him. Not really sure. Some bug predator. Not sure what I should have done different to protect him – maybe that’s just the way nature goes sometimes. If he was in an enclosed butterfly house he would have been okay. Maybe I should have put him in the butterfly box I made and just broke off branches from the Passion vine. I just thought it was cooler and more natural to have him wandering free on the vine like that. But I guess with more natural comes predators, too. So that ends the saga. It was not a happy one, but it’s an ending…and I can cross it off my to do list now.

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Kbal Spean butterfly welcoming

via hicockalorum

Ignacio Ayestaran in Cambodia:
After hiking two kilometers in the heat of the morning sun we arrived to the carvings of the lingas in Kbal Spean. Our hopes of refreshing under the waterfall were shatered as the riverbed lay dried but were instead treated to this beautifull site as hundreds of butterflies gathered around us.

There is actual magic in the world. Some people are finding it for us.

Part III of the Fritillary Butterfly Saga or: Teeny Tiny Piranhas

When last we left off, my family had gotten an adult caterpillar (Gulf Fritillary family), a group of caterpillar eggs (Gulf Fritillary family), and one chrysalis (Monarch family).
The eggs all hatched overnight one night in the dark, super tiny caterpillars came out, and immediately went to work eating Passion Flower leaves. When we checked on them in the morning, and found they’d hatched, we discovered they’d eaten the Passion Flower plant down to the nub. It was my fault, the Butterfly Farm sent one plant with the fully grown caterpillar, and despite the warnings they posted, I’d still thought this would be enough to feed the teeny tiny babies when they hatched. Boy was I wrong. These things are little monsters! Look how tiny they are – and they ate the entire plant!:

So we had big problems. There’s no way I was going to let the fully grown caterpillar and these babies die of starvation. That’d be beyond cruel and this was all my fault. Thing is, these guys were shipped from Florida, and we live in Pennsylvania. Was I going to be able to even buy a Passion Flower around here? I was delaying calling the local nurseries. I knew the answer would be “What? Never heard of it.” I emailed the butterfly farm and asked them if there was an alternative food for them. I started Googling alternative Fritillary caterpillar foods. My wife kept insisting I call the nursery, but I was such a smarty-pants I was sure they wouldn’t have one. Finally I gave up and called. Both nurseries near our house had Passion Flower vines. Come and get one. I asked them to PLEASE hold it for us – we have starving caterpillars at home!

The Passion vine is a really pretty plant. The flowers are amazing. This plant was huge compared to the one we had. Can’t tell from the picture, but it’s about 5 feet tall on a trellis! Cost me $30 – which was a bargain. The nursery was really nice and gave us a discount since this one was kind of growing out of control. So we put it in the greenhouse with the baby caterpillars and hoped for the best. The adult caterpillar (named Spike) formed a chrysalis (picture in the next post) and everything seemed like it was on the right track, but was it?…

(The answer is “No” – but I’ll explain in Part IV)

The tale of the butterflies continues…

So to continue the saga, the Fritillary caterpillar we bought was living happily on the Passion flower plant that Shady Oak Butterfly Farm sent us with the growing kit. He was eating the leaves off the plant pretty fast, but it seemed like the plant we had would hold him as long as he became a chrysalis soon. Then the caterpillar eggs hatched over night, and boy can they eat. The first picture below is the plant when it was shipped to us. The one below is after one night of having the baby caterpillars eat it…

So, we had problems. The caterpillars ate the entire plant down to the stalk. They were going to starve now. So I rushed off an email to Shady Oak, asking them if there is an alternative food for them, because I doubted I’d be able to find a Passion flower plant here in the Northeast. To be continued…

Gulf Fritillary caterpillar visitor


We put up a temporary greenhouse, it’s like a tent basically, but tall enough to walk into. After it was up, we realized it’d be perfect to have butterflies flying around it. Wouldn’t that be cool? Like the Disney World butterfly garden. So we got online and ordered from Shady Oak Butterfly Farm in Florida:

> 1 Gulf Fritillary caterpillar
> 6 Gulf Fritillary butterfly eggs
> 1 Monarch Crysalis

Approximately $50 (!) after 2 day air to our house.

What do you do when you run out of food because you have too many caterpillars and they eat your plant to the bare stalk? Stay tuned and find out…