8th July 2010
A couple of weeks ago, encouraged by a learned naturalist, Neil and I gathered a brood of Peacock butterfly caterpillars into our care. Countless tiny strands of life caught up in a silken web woven around a stem of nettles. We fashioned them a house; more of a box room really; the sort of residence that would remain on an estate agents books indefinitely with no real interest expressed in viewing! However it was more than adequate as as a starter home for these little ones. We furnished it with nettles and fixed an organza curtain securely in place across the front of the box, screening them from the harmful attention of parasitic flies, wasps and other predators. Very soon they ventured beyond their nursery web and began devouring their 'soft furnishings' .Taking our duty of care very seriously we provided them with fresh nettles the instant their home began to look bedraggled and life less appetising.
As they grew it became increasingly apparent that we would have to find them a new home. Yesterday Neil fashioned them what is best described as a Butterfly Palace, with sliding glass windows through which we can tend them, wooden sides,ceiling and a muslin 'feature' wall.
It was so thrilling 'helping them move'. We lifted their existing box room, rested it inside their new, palatial space and encouraged them to explore. We lifted some, still munching away on their nettles into the new corners of their world and they barely noticed. Others, of more edgy disposition, dropped and rolled like commandos on manoeuvres. To our delight, having emptied the box of its residents and debris (caterpillar house keeping is appalling, I had to take a dollies dust pan and brush to the pooh!) we found several fixed like jewels to the top of the box having completed their metamorphosis into chrysalis. Over the course of several hours they slowly changed from vibrant green to parchment brown in colour. Hung along side these 'jewels', like miniature sea horses were a number of creatures not yet fully metamorphosed. Still recognisable as caterpillars, grown fat and languid, they were attached securely into place by their bottoms (an indelicate yet accurate description) with a pad of silk spun out by themselves for the purpose. Slowly they wiggled as if to get comfortable , seemingly all harbouring ambition to once more touch their toes before 'the long sleep' to follow. Most extraordinarily of all, we witnessed one having attained this 'comfortable position', seem to unzip its caterpillar self to reveal its bright green chrysalis self within! Little by little, its 'caterpillar clothing' was simply sloughed off, ultimately falling to the ground. To our morbid fascination we witnessed that a number of our caterpillars had not escaped the attention of parasitic life, emerging from their caterpillar forms; life of an entirely different kind. Tiny silken balls containing the young of wasps or flies... possibly even spiders, I know not which. Bravely disregarding my butterfly sensibilities I have removed them to 'solitary confinement'... and will watch and learn. I remember a lecture given by a very worthy naturalist where by (and not with out cause) he accused lepidopterists and butterfly enthusiasts of being far too precious when it comes to considering all creepy crawly life, and not having enough room in their hearts for parasites!... I'm not at all convinced, but remain open minded. I think that there would be far less interest in the title 'Parasites ~ The Art and Embroidery of Jane Hall'... perhaps I'm wrong!
My conscience has just hear me quote the title of my unrealised book, and I really must get on now to settle it down! I have embroidered butterflies to metamorphose, it simpers!