Red, Red Wings
Brilliantly-coloured butterflies have miraculous births
ONE OF the most miraculous sights in nature is the lifecycle of the butterfly — it goes through a complete metamorphosis as it passes through four distinct stages: egg, caterpillar, pupa and adult butterfly. Let me share my own experience with rearing butterflies on my window sill.
About four years ago, someone gifted me a pupa of the Red Pierrot butterfly. A pupa is that stage in the lifecycle of a butterfly after which the adult emerges. As I watched the pupa, one day at a time, the wait was agonising. Eventually, on day nine, its colour changed from white to black and I knew the birth was near. I checked on it several times that night, with no luck!
By morning, the pupa was transparent and the colours of its wings were visible. At noon, the pupal case burst open and out crawled the beauty, struggling to find its feet. It had two black forewings and two red hind wings on the upper side, while the underside was white with black dots; a black and red margin to the wings was interspersed with white dots. I filmed the event until the newborn fluttered off, confidently, first onto a plant on my window and then out into its world.
I then bought a Kalanchoe plant for my window. This is the plant on which these butterflies lay their eggs: most butterflies have specific plants from which they take their nectar and specific plants on which eggs are laid for the caterpillars to feed on. It took a patient three-month wait before my Kalanchoe flowered.
Then, within no time, I saw tiny eggs on the leaves, soon followed by tiny caterpillars. Caterpillars feed voraciously; they are virtually eating machines. Soon, not much of my plant remained!
The caterpillar sheds its skin three to four times during its development, during which process it temporarily stops eating. This stage is called the instar. Ten to 15 days later, the first pupa formed and I stored it carefully in an openmouthed container, lest the birds should take it away.
After thus removing a few more pupae to safety, I stopped, reasoning with myself that I was interfering with the ways of nature. Nature has its own way of balancing things and the food chain would be imbalanced if all organisms had a 100 percent survival rate. However, I did watch and count them several times a day, to reassure myself that they were all safe. I had 25 of them now!
Soon, one after the other, the pupae began to hatch — sometimes one a day, at other times two or even three. Over a period of 10 days, I saw 25 Red Pierrots come to life and take their first flight into the world from my window.
A few days after all the births were through, I saw a Common Mormon butterfly laying eggs on my curry leaf plant. These caterpillars grew much larger than the Red Pierrots. Naturally, therefore, there was a higher risk of attack. I allowed nature to follow its course and four of the eight pupae were eaten by birds.
These simple joys of nature bring with them immense pleasure; they sooth our frayed nerves, all the while teaching us the ways of life. For those interested in attracting butterflies to their windows or gardens, you can grow plants like Pentas, Ixora, Marigold, Petunia, Sadaphuli, Jatropha, Aster, Lemon grass, Plumbago and Heliotropium — and watch as various varieties of butterflies arrive to suck their nectar.
Or, if you want to watch the lifecycle of a butterfly at first hand, try planting Kalanchoe, Curry Leaf, Passiflora, Bryophyllum or Calotropis, and wait for the butterflies to come and lay their eggs, and watch their metamorphosis. Remember, butterflies usually lay eggs towards the end of the monsoon, and continue right up to February. The creature may not emerge from the pupa for months together, depending on the species and on whether the conditions are favourable for its survival, though this occurs only in extreme climatic areas.
Go ahead and observe the miracle of nature — it will humble you for sure; albeit delightfully. •