On The Wild Side: Hatching, raising and releasing butterflies and moths

Above, a tiger swallowtail caterpillar. Inset photo, a monarch butterfly emerges from its cocoon. Photos by Ann Brokelman.

By ANN BROKELMAN

If a COVID-19 quarantine wasn’t a factor, how many of you normally love the summer for its sunbathing, swimming, going to cottages, and other hot weather activities?

Not me! I can’t stand the summer heat and humidity. I, generally speaking, would prefer to just hibernate and wait till the late fall.

Thankfully, I have discovered several activities, which of course revolve around animals, to help distract me during these sweaty months.

Today’s story revolves around my efforts to hatch and release butterflies and moths.

Last year was my first attempt at raising butterflies and this year have expanded to the wonderful world of moths. So far I have been working with three types of moths: polyphemus, prometheus, and cecropia, and four types of butterflies: tiger swallowtails, black swallowtails, American ladies and monarchs. (I had to print signs of each caterpillar’s names so I know which one was crecropia and which one was prometheus. I can barely say the names, let alone spell them).

Over the last weeks I have been spending countless hours watching the caterpillars eating and growing, methodically documenting their transformation into a chrysalis or making a cocoon, and then observing them slowly emerging and needing to be set free.

I’m a little embarrassed to say that when I saw this year’s first cocoon I may have put my whole head inside the container to get a better look! I imagine that’s the sort of moment that fuels caterpillar nightmares.

While this has been an amazing process, and you may now be interested in trying it by yourself or with your family, please know that each caterpillar requires different food, mist sprayed on them, and their container needs regular cleaning, among other specific needs.

For example, the polyphemus moth will eat oaks, maples, birch and others. Tiger swallowtails and Prometheus, I feed them tulip leaves because I don’t have access to any of the other trees it will eat, and my monarchs only eat milkweed.

We have huge trees in yard and around the neighbourhood so the red maple leaves were abundant, but the tulips were a bit harder to find. Each leaf should be rinsed to remove bugs, and dust. I put all my leaves in the enclosures wet.

With more than 30 caterpillars, taking care of them took longer than making my own meals each day. Here is the really cool part though: I swear they have distinct personalities.

Some seemed to be waiting for the food and would chow down as soon as a leaf was put in front of them, others would twist backwards to get away from me. Others, I think, looked like they wanted to debate American politics… maybe… maybe they were just sleepy.

Thank you to the people who have helped me this year with the raising of so many new moths and butterflies.

Carol Pasternak, who literally wrote the book on How To Raise Monarch Butterflies: A Step By Step Guide For Kids, has been my go to person. Second, my new friend Aviline, who is in her second year of breeding silk moths, has shared her passion of cecropia moths with me.

The members of the Guildwood butterfly group are always there to help and let me release butterflies in their stunning gardens.

Lastly, I have to thank my husband for not making a fuss of me using the computer room as a butterfly hatchery or for when the occasional butterfly can’t wait till it gets outside to start flying and decides to take a tour of our home instead.

This has also been a very exciting adventure learning how to do macro photography, time lapse photography and to improve my video editing.

If you’d like to watch, I did a detailed video of a monarch emerging from a chrysalis, and you can see it here at this link: https://youtu.be/boKDhfMu5tY


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