don’t put all your eggs in one basket

One would think I had nothing else to write about apart from butterflies, but it seems that they’re at the forefront of life around the farm just at the moment. They seem to be everywhere and always getting in front of my camera when I’m out for my daily insects walks. That said, there’s a lot to be learned from watching butterflies as they go about their duties. What looks to be random and erratic flight often turns out to be something quite else when observed from a modest distance.

On Friday, I walked to the back of the farm through a meadow that is very dense with oldfield vegetation. I soon met up with two Black Swallowtail butterflies (Papilio polyxenes), that were flitting up and down, above and through the flowertops, occasionally hovering for a few moments before zigzagging onwards. Sometimes, they would take what can only be described as a “cursory glance” at a flower head before moving on to visit the next. Other times, they would hover, hummingbird like, while dipping and bobbing against a flower. I soon noticed that they spent the longest visits at the freshest flower heads of Queen Anne’s Lace, and the least time at those that were beginning to dry out and were past their peak bloom. The purpose of the visits to the bloom became quite clear when I drew near enough to see that the butterflies were ovipositing on some of the flowers. While observing this activity, the old saying, “Dont put all your eggs in one basket” came to mind.

This aerial dance through the flowers, while outwardly appearing rather whimsical, is actually quite methodical. Eggs are deposited on the most suitable blooms, on plants likely to make good foodstuff for the longest period of time. They are also distributed widely across the meadow so that the hatched larvae will have adequate food, while predators will not have such an easy time hunting down each and every developing caterpillar. I’ve observed very similar behaviour among the Monarch butterflies — the careful choice of Milkweed plants before laying an egg here and another there. This behaviour is all about survival.

At the tail end of the most recent Monarch report, I mentioned that the Black Swallowtail caterpillar, found on a Queen Anne’s Lace flowertop back on August 10th, finished transforming into a chrysalis last week. In contrast to the rather dramatic transformation of the Monarchs, the Swallowtail caterpillar seemed to gradually morph from caterpillar to chrysalis, almost appearing to be doing nothing for a couple of days or so, and then gradually beginning to look more and more like a wood chip or bit of bark. The chrysalis is well attached to the screen by fine silk threads. I find it interesting that a couple of threads are lashed across the pupa like tether lines (click on the photo below to see a larger view). Something about it reminds me a little of the story of Gulliver being tied to the ground by the Lilliputians. Also, the shape of the chrysalis, when viewed from the side and above, reminds me of the leg of some cloven-hoofed animal.

Well, I do actually have other things to write about other than butterflies, but it will have to wait for another day. The sun is out, so I’ll be making the best of today after I get through with cleaning out the Monarch caterpillar trays and restocking them with fresh Milkweed leaves. Good thing caterpillars grow up in a matter of weeks. This 24-hour caterpillar care facility could wear one down after awhile. Have I mentioned that they create an amazing amount of poop in one day? Well, they do. (-:

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