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BUSY SPRING AND SUMMER ON THE BUTTERFLY FARM: By the Butterfly Lady, Pat Schuler

As so often happens  I’ve allowed “busyness” to interfere with business.  

My diagnosis–too much volunteering!  

As a result, I haven’t kept up with my posts.  However, a lot  has been happening on our little butterfly farm,  and I’ve taken quite a few photos along the way.  About two weeks after Easter we put all pupae out of the refrigerator where they had spent the winter in hibernation.  The  Saturnidae  (our native silk moths) enclosed in their silken cocoons, were placed on the porch in the emerging cage.  The bare pupae of those species which burrow under the ground to spend the winter were placed into  a specially prepared box which maintains an environment sufficiently similar to that under the earth.  With these preparations  made,  we waited  to see what would emerge first.

First out was the lone tiger swallowtail I had raised last summer.  It was a beautiful  female, which was released to, hopefully, find a mate and lay her eggs.  Shortly after that four rosy maple moths emerged from their pupae.  They are small moths, but always attract attention with their pink and yellow coloration.  Finally, on April 31st, the first cecropia eclosed, This was a female, which failed to attract a male, but began laying non-fertilized eggs anyway. The following day, though, another female emerged from her cocoon.  She was placed in the breeding cage on our back porch about nine PM and soon began to “call” by fanning her pheromone into the night air. Just before sunrise the next morning her efforts were rewarded, as a gorgeous male came to visit.  The two coupled and remained attached until late afternoon.  She almost immediately began to lay eggs inside the brown paper bag I had placed her in to prevent egg scattering.  After a day of this production, she was released to lay the rest of her eggs wherever she chose.  Two weeks later the first lunas began to leave their cocoons and draw wild males for the same process .  A week and a half following the laying of eggs I had tiny caterpillars to feed and clean up after!

 I had hoped to again raise some regal moth caterpillars; but, in spite of successful pairings, all those eggs failed to hatch.  However, the lunas have grown well and are now in cocoons.  The cecropias, too,  have done well and are now busily spinning their cocoons.  The lunas will probably start emerging and mating soon, since this species has two broods here in Virginia.  I’m hoping the cecropias will decide to wait until next spring!  It has been especially enjoyable to watch them grow, however  since my attempt last year met with disastrous results, the entire hatching dying of what appeared to be a contagious disease of some sort.  This year I have been particularly careful to wash all leaves before offering them as food, as well as good hand washing before working with any group of larvae.

In addition to raising moth larvae, I have been fortunate enough to find another tiger swallowtail “cat” and several zebra swallowtail eggs to observe.  Currently, I have those and six little monarch caterpillars to keep me busy and photographing eagerly while the last cecropias spin up.

People often ask me why I find this activity interesting, and I have difficulty understanding why everyone doesn’t share my interest.  Perhaps the answer lies in the fact that I see in all of nature the hand of an awesome God.  Every part of the life cycles of these small creatures is so beautifully integrated into the greater ecosystem,  and so intricate in itself, that one can study for a lifetime and only touch the mysteries to be solved.