Back on the 31st July I acquired five tiny Painted Lady caterpillars. They came in their own pot of artificial food and with no instructions on what to do with them. A few hours research on the internet, and I hoped I knew exactly what I was letting myself in for....
Although all the websites said the artificial food was fine for these caterpillars, I wanted more for them. I wanted to create a little haven for them with fresh food too. On my next day off work, I went straight to the nearest pet store and brought a tank suitable for keeping lizards, spiders etc in.
As the caterpillars were so small, they could escape through the air holes at the top of the tank. To remedy this I cut up an old gauze arm sling, and fitted it across the top of the tank, secured with sellotape. The black lid then fitted securely on top. I went out and collected nettle and thistle leaves and stalks, and at the bottom of the tank I spread out the artificial food, just in case.
As the caterpillars grew, they started to take on characteristics, and as they got bigger they didn't move around so much, so it became very easy for me to recognise them by sight. They had to have names, so I named them after some of my friends.....
There were two that always seemed to stick together, so they became Susan and Elaine, who are best mates in the real world. In the vid clip below, you can clearly see how 'close' they were, ha ha ha.
One of the caterpillars seemed to be more mature than the others, and early on found a large clump of artificial food, then spun a very loose silk web over the food and itself. I called this one Maggie, after a dear friend of mine who is very sensible. Maggie stayed like this for a long time, eating the food within her reach and not moving around a lot, therefore conserving lots of energy. This is Maggie below......
Another caterpillar seemed more adventurous than the others, moving around the tank, investigating, often stopping and taking in the world around it. I called this one Gina, after a very good friend of mine.....this is Gina below....
The last little caterpillar was the one that, once it discovered the fresh food, didn't go back to the artificial stuff. This one I called Sandra, after a friend of mine who is a Vegan. Below is a little vid clip of her having lunch.....
Although the websites I had looked at were good, none of them really gave me a time line of when to expect 'changes' to happen. On the 7th August, Maggie left her silk 'apartment' and made her way to the top of the roof. Later that night, she had dropped down to a J position. This is the position Painted Lady caterpillars get in to before they become a chrysalis.
Sandra and Gina soon followed, and by the morning of the 8th August, Maggie, Sandra and Gina had dropped to the J position and had become chrysalis. When I adapted the tank for their needs, I knew they tended to spin a silk button up high, then hang down from it head first, therefore the stretched piece of old arm sling was proving to have been a good idea. However, what I didn't allow for, was this made viewing the little critters much harder. I had to hold up the whole tank to look under the lip of the black plastic roof. Also the caterpillars had left little silky webs everywhere, so getting photos proved to be challenging.
The photo below is of Gina (chrysalis to the left), Maggie (chrysalis to the right), Sandra (chrysalis at the back), and Elaine the caterpillar. Susan was still munching on the artificial food below.
The vid clip below is of Elaine the caterpillar having a walk around the roof, and Maggie the chrysalis. Note the 'thing' hanging off on the left of Maggie. Its actually her expelled caterpillar head ! And you can see Maggie moving around inside her new shell.
Later that day, Elaine the caterpillar managed to knock Gina the Chrysalis off her silk button. Gina fell half way down the tank wall, before coming to rest and being held on by just a few strands of silk. I was a bit worried for a while, I wasn't sure how this would affect her once the last process began, the emergence of the butterfly. Photo below is of Gina at her new place of rest.
Gina holding on, literally, by a thread.
This is Maggie. You can just make out the silk button at the top.
By the evening of the 9th of August, both Elaine and Susan had also dropped to the J position, although Susan had abandoned her friendship with Elaine, and positioned herself on the other side of the tank, away from the other four. Elaine had chosen to take the place where Gina had originally hung from. By the time I got up in the morning on the 10th, I had five little chrysalis, four hanging neatly from the roof, and one hanging precariously against the side of the tank.
Going from the information I had found on the websites, once the final stage had begun, I should expect butterflies in around 8-10 days, so I was expecting Maggie to emerge over the weekend of the 17th August, with Sandra and Gina to follow, then Elaine and Susan to emerge maybe on the 19th.
By the 11th August, the tank really needed to be cleaned out. The uneaten food, both fresh and artificial, was starting to smell. I hadn't been able to do anything in the previous three days, as the caterpillars had been going through such a delicate process and couldn't be disturbed. On the 13th I took the tank to work (not unusual, since the 31st July, I carried the caterpillars almost everywhere with me) and gently peeled back the arm sling roof, cleaned out all the debris, put in some fresh twigs (for the newly emerging butterflies to rest on) and grabbed some photos. I also taped little labels by each chrysalis so I could see at a glance, who they were.
On the 14th, I was at home and heard a knocking sound, it was Sandra violently shaking around.
I managed to get this vid footage below.....
Later that evening, Gina also started 'knocking' and it was so vigorous, that her silk strands snapped and she fell to the floor. Even though there was no damage to her, it did make me wonder how her butterfly was going to emerge when the time came. As I still had a few days to work this out (or so I thought), I went to bed not overly worried.
This morning, the 15th of August, I got up and checked on my tank. There resting on a twig was a butterfly !!! I checked the tank again, and hanging from the mesh roof were two more butterflies !!!!!! Sandra and Maggie's old chrysalis shells were still attached to the mesh roof, and Gina's one, on the floor, was also empty. Somehow Gina had managed to emerge and get on to one of the twigs. Luckily I wasn't at work today, but I hadn't planned on actually going out either, except to maybe get some cut flowers to put in the bottom of the tank ready for the butterflies (to feed on) that I thought weren't going to emerge for another two or three days !! I knew the butterflies had to have time to harden off their wings, but I also knew they would have to be released today, to get some food. My friend Corinna, kindly offered to collect me later on and take us to Cranford Park, to release my three little Ladies......
The photos below are of the Ladies in their tank, stretching and hardening off their wings.
This one above is Gina. The stain on the blue absorbent cloth, and the red droplet on the twig, is called meconium, and is the waste product from the pupa.
Having a stretch giving me a lovely look at the underneath of a Painted Lady. By this time (three hours after emerging) they had moved around quite a bit, so I had lost track of who was who.
Resting on a twig
Sandra's empty chrysalis shell
The vid clip below was filmed at 11am this morning. As you can see the butterflies are getting the idea by starting to flap their wings. You can also see they gained a new 'supporter'.........
Hardening off the wings.
Six hours after finding the butterflies emerged, Corinna picked me up from home and we drove to Cranford Park. A lot of the thistle patches were being cut down to stop seed spreading, but we found a large patch that was going to be left to go to seed. It still had plenty of thistle flowers on it, and seemed the ideal place to release Sandra, Maggie and Gina.
For the first time ever, I had a butterfly on my finger tips. I let two fly off from my finger, and the third flew out of the tank before Corinna could place her finger in front of it.
Out and about in the thistles
And finally a vid clip of me with one of my Painted Ladies on my finger tip, with running commentary from Corrinna......
And its not over, Elaine and Susan are still in the chrysalis stage (although Elaine was doing quite a bit of 'knocking' while we were at Cranford park), so they are still in the tank and at home with me. As they went into the chrysalis stage almost 30 hours after Maggie, Sandra and Gina did, then I expect them to emerge in about 30 hours time. But I was wrong about my predicted date for my first three Ladies, so I could be wrong about my last two as well !! Watch this space..........