Butterfly farm

by Diane on 03/02/2013

We’ve been having the most awesome weather for a couple of weeks now. Super warm, sunshine galore – it is truly summer. It’s way too nice to spend five days a week at a stuffy office, so last week Nick and I took a random day off to drive up the coast and pretend we’re on a holiday.

We stopped at a few random places for shopping, opshopping and beach walks and had a great time. One of the places we stopped at was Otaki, which is the ‘big’ outlet centre north of Wellington. All major clothes brands have an outlet store there, where they sell their excess stock and out-of-season products at reduced prices.

But it wasn’t the clothes, shoes and other goods that got my attention. It was the local IHC centre. IHC is an organisation for people with intellectual disabilities, that provides services, advocacy, support and information. The Otaki centre funds some of its work by selling homemade produce (like jams) and seedlings they grow in their own little community garden. Since I’ve been really getting into gardening lately (watch out for another post coming about my great gardening efforts), I was keen to have a look at their seedlings.

We were shown around the backyard and discovered the most magic butterfly heaven on earth. They had giant swan plants in their garden, the main food source for monarch butterfly caterpillars, and they were all covered in cute little creatures at different stages of their lifecycle. Luckily they sold seedlings they had grown from that huge swan plant, so I ended up getting ten little swan plants, including some caterpillars!

I must admit that I hadn’t really thought this purchase through. In my mind it seemed super easy to just put the plants into the ground and leave the caterpillars to it, until they emerge as pretty monarch butterflies. Unfortunately it’s not that easy, there are a number of factors I only realised once I started my research to provide them with the best possible environment:

  • Caterpillars have enemies, such as wasps, trying to kill them. What if they get eaten alive while in my care?
  • There are also birds that might eat them (which suddenly crossed my mind after I had gone to bed, so I stormed out in the dark and put a bird net around the plants).
  • I didn’t only get the caterpillars we could see on the plants, I must have got some eggs as well. Every day there’s a new teeny-tiny caterpillar baby, that wants to eat too (which meant that I had to get additional plants off TradeMe to provide enough food for all generations).
  • Big caterpillars sometimes accidentally eat tiny caterpillars. Not because they are evil carnivores, but because they are rather engaged in the leaf munching process, so they don’t realise that a miniature relative is sitting on their food source. Serious ‘breeders’ keep different generations apart from each other. On my plants they’re all living together.

Even if I had known all of this when I got the plants and caterpillars, I still would have taken them home. They are wonderful to watch, and I could spend hours sitting in front of them, watching them munch their way trough the leaves.

I hope they’ll all make it into adulthood.

Big caterpillar munching.

Big caterpillar munching.

Fighting for the best leaf.

Fighting for the best leaf.

Teeny-tiny baby caterpillar.

Teeny-tiny baby caterpillar.

Going up (or down... who knows?).

Going up (or down… who knows?).

Gabi February 3, 2013 at 11:15 pm

Das ist sooo toll; würde ich auch gerne mal wieder machen. Vor einigen Jahren hatten wir eine Riesenpopulation von Raupen des Zitronenfalters; war sooo spannend. Ich habe auch großen Spaß daran, sowas zu beobachten.

Jen D February 3, 2013 at 11:55 pm

So cute! My Nana had a swan plant in her garden when I was growing up – just one, and she usually only got 2 or 3 butterflies each season. But they were so pretty!

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