The Hand That Rocks The Cradle – Raising Butterflies

Saturday morning. I am emailing a friend, telling her that we already raised two butterflies and there are five caterpillars and eleven chrysalises left.
For over ten years I used to babysit her children. But despite caterpillars looking small and cute, I kept thinking back to the days I changed nappies. It being far easier, definitely quicker and baby poo was not even half as scary.

Size Does Matter

It all started with a fellow knitter online who shared her passion about raising butterflies. From the very first time she mentioned finding eggs in the garden I kept an eye out for it. On a nasturtium leaf I found about twenty tiny yellow things, that looked like vertically positioned miniature corn cobs, and I was enthralled. According to the internet, I was expecting Little Cabbage Whites. After a few days, most eggs hatched in the same night, leaving me with over a dozen caterpillars that were only half a millimeter wide and two millimeters long. And with that my nanny duties began.

To avoid cannibalism it is best to keep a single caterpillar in one jar or plastic container. A small feather is used to get them from the leaf that the eggs were on to their new homes which is not as easy as it sounds. You try getting a baby from cradle to pram with the sweep of a broomstick. Every other day I took the caterpillars from the containers to remove any droppings and gave them a fresh leaf of nasturtium, cabbage, or garlic mustard. It takes about two weeks to become a full grown caterpillar.
It was fascinating to see them grow rapidly and finally change into a chrysalis. I especially liked this period of ten to fourteen days – not just because I no longer had to clean the jars (okay, I’ll admit it was a happy addition)… but because never before in my life have I witnessed a chrysalis and with this project I had several right in front of me with their armor-like exterior making me think of crocodiles. Alien-like as opposed to the fragile and slightly hairy, but definitely adoring, little crawling bunch of smashers.

Saturday night. We are about to have dinner and I check the jar with the cocoon that I noticed changing color during the day. The cocoon is empty, but I don’t see a butterfly in its container. How is that possible? I look at the jar from a slightly different angle and before I know it I scream when a butterfly, twice the size of the other butterflies I had so far, scares the bejesus out of me. I don’t lose my cool completely and manage to put the jar – with the creature furiously fluttering around, quite like the feeling in my rib cage – gently back on the table.
‘Fleur, Fleur, Fleur, you’re no here, are you,’ I think while I am doubled over with laughter. My partner emerges from the kitchen to see what that yelling was about.

Only A Few Weeks Left

Sunday morning. The house is quiet again and we have five caterpillars and ten chrysalises left, both Little Cabbage Whites and Large Cabbage Whites (also known as Large Whites – yes, large indeed).
I am hoping they all grow into healthy butterflies, even if I risk aging fifteen years in these upcoming few weeks.

If you enjoyed this story, you might want to read Broken Beauties.

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And you can find me on Twitter: @Fleurtje_Eliza.

This post is also available in: Dutch

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