Wednesday, July 8, 2009

A Biology Lesson - Why brains will get you farther than looks

About a month ago, I noticed this little guy on my fennel plant. Swallowtail caterpillars! There were a lucky 13 in all. Please pay attention. This is a story of birth and death and butterfly stupidity. Besides, there may be a test at the end. They ate and ate and grew. Sadly, their numbers went down despite the fact they were totally chowing down consuming what used to be a huge fennel plant. Finally, I realized the godless, stinging beasts wasps were zapping them and flying away with the caterpillar carcass. My protective nature kicked into gear. Ozone sensitive wasp spray may or may not have been sprayed in vast quantities in an attempt to rid the world of this evil.

When the numbers were a mere THREE, I brought them onto the porch and prayed for them to pupate.

Over the next two days, each of the three caterpillars struck the pupate pose.

Interestingly enough, the color of the chrysalis seemed to be determined by the color of the stick the pupation took place on as one was green and two were gray-brown. Next year, I plan to paint some of the sticks orange and purple just to see what the chrysalis color will be.

Two of the butterflies came out of the chrysalis when we weren't looking. Later, we had to catch them on porch and send them on their merry little way since they were too stupid to fly out the open door. The last chrysalis finally showed evidence of the butterfly coming out.

Because I did read a little about the Swallowtails, I knew to leave them alone. Apparently, things in nature have this whole birthing process worked out.

Like humans, they really aren't too cute when they finally emerge. At least they don't suffer from the cone head issues.

After they are born, they are supposed to hang out and let their wings dry. At first, he seemed to get the hanging out part.

Then, for some reason, he just fell to the floor. He looked a lot like a turtle on his back. I wanted to throw him a lifeline but I resisted playing God.

He just didn't look good and it didn't feel right to not lend a helping hand. I cheered for him and all he did was crumple up his wings. He seemed defeated.

When he began to tear his wings, I offered a stick to the butterfly. He seemed thankful and grabbed hold. I placed the stick back into the flower pot.

Within a few minutes, the butterfly was back on the floor. What the hell?! Maybe this was a special butterfly. Or maybe this was a butterfly who would benefit from some accommodations. Or it could be that this was a butterfly who was having issues with that whole survival of the fittest concept.

I offered the stick again. Again, the butterfly clung on for dear life.

Maybe the butterfly needed some food. I decided to place the butterfly outside on what remained of the fennel plant. He quickly climbed up a new stick and just sat there. Now maybe what remained of his wings would dry out and work for him.

Within minutes, a wasp started circling the area. Against my better judgment, I decided to let nature take it's course. Damn wasps won again.

I was able to snap this picture of one of the butterflies who followed the protocol for wing drying right before we caught him to place him outside because he was one of the two butterflies too stupid to fly out the door we opened for him.

In the end, the score was Butterflies - 2, Wasps - 11.

I think I'm going to have to reconsider this whole "Free as a Butterfly" idea. It appears when it comes to survival of the fittest, the wasps have it going on.


Kristina P. said...

First, these pictures are amazing.

Second, poor little butterfly!

K13 said...

wow!! you put a lot of work into this post. lots of time and pictures. it's great. the butterfly is definitely UGLY until he gets all the way out though huh!!

Jan said...

Well, you know, they have those teeny, tiny brains. Almost as small as my ex-husband's.

Mrs. K said...

poor little we know butterflies have birth defects also.

M.J. said...

It's wild kingdom up in your yard! Those are some great shots of the whole metamorphosis process.

Crazy Charm said...

Aw. I thought and hoped this story might have a miraculous ending. :(

Also I loved,
"Maybe this was a special butterfly. Or maybe this was a butterfly who would benefit from some accommodations."

You're such a teacher!

beth said...

so are we going with "free as a wasp" from here on out? cool post.

mo.stoneskin said...

So kind of you to offer him a stick.

This saga reminded me of a Far Side cartoon where on one side of the panel is an empty cocoon hanging on a plant, and on the other side is a spider's web with a butterfly caught in it!

carma said...

wow...what a depressingly sad ending :-( but not without a valiant effort on your part!

followthatdog said...

Cool photos, but kind of a depressing story. Well, unless you're the kind of person who roots for the wasps.

The Old Gray Egg said...

What a natural food chain. If it weren't for your nurturing fennel, there would be no swallowtail. If it weren't for the swallowtail, there'd be no wasp. If it weren't for the wasp, there'd be no fig. If it weren't for the fig leaf, we'd all be nekked. Ok. Maybe not. But it sure was nice to see the swallowtail portion. Thanks.

only a movie said...

I caught the *accommodations* bit too. Sounds like something I would say...

I love everything about this post. The photos, the story, your sense of humor. Awesome.

Candice said...

I'm so glad you got pictures of the whole process. I found it facinating.

I will say that Mr. Corky butterfly did creep me out a little bit. His legs resemble spider legs, and I have palpitations when it comes to those things.

I was rootin' for him, but alas he got his ass popped by a wasp. Probably a gang affiliated wasp at that.

Beth said...

Kristina - I was feeling sorry for the butterflies/caterpillars, too.

K13 - Just wait. When you get your camera, we'll see some amazing photos!

Jan - You made me laugh! I'll have to remember that point of comparison.

Mrs. K - They have birth defects and poor parenting! Where was the butterfly mother? She should totally be taking care of her babies! It is an outrage!

MJ - I haven't even gotten to the story about the rabid racoons.

Crazy Charm - I was hoping for a miraculous ending, too. Should I make one up?

beth - "Free as a Wasp" should be our new motto. Except they didn't seem so free when I was spraying them with that poison.

Mo - I love the Far Side!

carma - I was sad, too. It made me want a beer before lunch. I resisted.

followthatdog - I really don't us pulling for the wasps. Unless you mean by pulling for them we are spraying them down.

The Old Gray Egg - You are a genius! I should totally go thank those wasps for creating clothes.

Erin - I knew YOU would be into the accommodations! Special Education teachers are my favorite!

Candice - I'm all a-scared now. We have gang activity in our neighborhood? I gotta go get my wasp ammo so I can pop their ass right back.

otin said...

Education people have way too much summer vacation!!! LOL!

Mellisa - Chinook Jewelry said...

Are you sure you're not an early intervention specialist? I think it will be very important to develop a survival support program for them next year, preferably one with a catchy acronym.

Southern Drawl said...

So laughing right now...yes, "free as a butterfly" definitely has a whole new look now...thanks...a lot....

sherri said...

great story and pictures. we had a caterpillar for about two days and realized it had wasp babies attached to it that were slowly killing it and using it as a host. truly odd. I had no idea until now that wasps and caterpillars were mortal enemies. your post has cemented this for me.

Wonderful World of Weiners said...

I actually got a little sad watching the poor butterfly struggle. And then to have Mother Nature kick it in the ass by way of the wasp. Ahhh...the circle of life can be a tough one!!


phd in yogurtry said...

Out, damn'd butterfly, out, I say!

I was fascinated and humbled by this post. It has never crossed my mind to capture a catepillar and watch it hatch (pupate?) And I have three kids.

Hit 40 said...

I agree with Otin!!! We do have some time on our hands!! Crazy Maybe, you should buy some more through mail order. You can buy butterfly larva.

TechnoBabe said...

It is almost like watching a slide show in biology class. I was fascinated. Takes a lot to hold my interest, I'm too squirmy. But this is great.

sun lover said...

Great pictures....what type of camera do you use?

Brenda Susan said...

I loved this post even though I am carefully overlooking the feeling of being insulted when you said "stupid butterflies". As if you meant it for me personally! Ha!
I also did not know how unattractive they are at first! yikes!
I am still going to use "Free as a butterfly" because it is basically what my whole blog is based on!Thanks for the graphic lesson!

Smart Mouth Broad said...

Wonderful post, Beth. I can't believe you caught all that with your camera.

Beth said...

otin - I only get 3 weeks. :( Just when I'm good and relaxed, I have to go back to work.

Melissa - We could start the We Aim to Support Pappillons (butterfly in French) - WASP. That might be kind of sick. Sorry.

Southern Drawl - Sad, isn't it?

Sherri - I really never anticipated that only 2 out of 13 caterpillars would make it to become productive members of the butterfly population. Terrible odds.

Hallie - We should all take a stand against the damn wasps.

phd in yogurtry - I totally recommend watching the cycle. It is truly fascinating.

Hit 40/Eileen - I have to go back to work next week (and today - which is probably a blog post later). 3 weeks doesn't feel like long enough. I've never ordered the caterpillars but it would be cool to watch them again.

TechnoBabe - This is actually the 2nd year we've gotten the swallowtails. They love fennel and I am willing to donate it to the cause each year. Glad you were interested!

sunlover - Thanks for the compliment. I use a Canon EOS Rebel XS. I LOVE that camera. In six months, I've taken almost 5000 pictures.

Brenda Susan - No offense was aimed at you! I promise! I truly never studied the thought processes of a butterfly. Both of the ones who flew stayed on the screen and looked longingly out into the yard when the door was open right next to them. Scary!

Smart Mouth Broad - I have a camera addiction. It is almost as serious as the blog addiction.

Kulio said...

Amazing pictures!!! We just got through the birthing process of some....tentworms....yes, the invasive species. Our daughter had so carefully collected and fed the caterpillars...we didn't know what to do...finally had a talk with her, and she was okay with burning the lot - ick. So happy that two of yours had a better outcome...

Funny Girl said...

Your pictues are perfect. You could just post them without words and we would get it.

dana said...

I hate to watch National Geographic. Just as you're watching the cute little baby (insert name of animal here), along comes a (insert hyena, alligator or lion here) and you get to see the play by play horror. I always yell "Lay down the damn camera and SAVE IT!!!" As I'm changing channels. Death to wasps!!!

Michel said...

What? Bees kill things? WHY? Why do they kill butterflies?? It's like kicking a kitten. It's just not done!!

Only you would raise a special butterfly who is sickly and runtish. You coddled him...plain and simple. You left him alone and then just sat back and waited for the bees!

♥ Braja said...

I'M BACK!!! My computer!! It's fixed!! Yes!!

OK I've calmed down now.

Well hell, it's been THREE FREAKIN' WEEKS.

And just so you know? I'm gonna copy and paste this comment and post it on all the blogs I visit....:))))

Gaston Studio said...

OMG, how did I miss this fantastic post!

Only you would spend so much time and effort to help these tiny little creatures. So sorry at the final score, but know that your time wasn't entirely wasted.