It’s been lonely around here this week. Two of the butterfly babies are flying free, and one is lifeless under glass in my kitchen. Part nature, part nurture, I’m sad to say he didn’t make it. He seemed to have problems from the beginning. This is his chrysalis:
The brown spot was worrisome but didn’t match up with descriptions of any life-threatening problems such as black death or OE. But it seems that when he emerged, he dropped to the countertop. I, of course, did not see it, even though I woke up early, brought a chair into the laundry room and read the entire paper from said uncomfortable chair. Then I went to get my laptop, got distracted for ten minutes, and came back to this:
Normally, they hang from their chrysalis while their wings unfurl and dry. It’s the reason caterpillars crawl endlessly to find the perfect spot. The spot has to be roomy enough for them to spread their impending wings. In this case, the countertop didn’t seem suitable. I lured him onto a wooden skewer and placed the skewer over the top of the plastic pot he had originally anchored to.
He was fine, so I left him to dry. When I came back, he was back on the countertop. He may have fallen; he may have tried to fly. Either way, it’s strange behavior. The others all hung very still and very close to their chrysalises for the first few hours.
When he tried to get up, it looked like his legs were slipping on the granite. It was sad watching him flop around like that, so I intervened – big mistake! I thought he would get better traction if he was on dirt, so again he grabbed the skewer and I moved him to a big planter pot. There isn’t a plant in there, just some soil and a few weeds…so I thought. But it wasn’t ten minutes before I went back to check on him and those savages were attacking - a gang of miniscule thugs crawling all over him, stabbing tiny holes through his brilliantly orange wings. They are one of the few Floridian creatures to survive the cold snap in huge numbers and the bane of my gardening existence – ANTS!
They’re actually starting to build up now. We’re hosting the ant equivalent to Dubai on our brick pavers, which was okay with me before they did the unimaginable. There must have been some prior squatters who sent the word because ants were flooding down the window into the pot. By the time I got to the butterfly, his wings and body were covered with ants and…his legs were gone! I flicked off the ants, but it was too late. His wings weren’t moving. The whole experience was horrifying. I feel like an accessory to murder!
But my poor judgment doesn’t excuse those murderous little ants! It seems that they’re dropping Monarch populations in places other than my laundry room. William Calvert conducted a study in Texas that suggests fire ants are contributing to the reduced monarch population. But they normally eat monarch eggs not monarch legs; I didn’t find anything about that. Among Calvert’s testing sites, there were more than double the eggs in areas where fire ants were kept at bay. He greased a wall to keep them out. I’ve tried baking soda and vinegar, instant grits and boiling water…maybe it’s time to pull out the Crisco!