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Dancing with Monarchs

by Beverley, Napier, New Zealand


The cat was delighted when the monarch butterflies arrived The poor things are rather tattered in early spring. I am never sure where they come from or where they have wintered over but their pale wings are a poor imitation of the formerly resplendent black and gold.

Ollie is certain they are a type of bird and pursues them relentlessly; deliberately he never catches them. In the early days he grabbed one in his mouth and got quite cross-eyed at the unsettling wing-fluttering and realised that there wasn't much to grab or eat. The monarch must have tasted horrible because after it freed itself and flew off Ollie tore over to the water and drank for ages.

The only food plant for the monarchs in our garden is the swan plant by the back door. Once this plant would have been completely devoured by monarchs in late summer, resulting in fat, hungry caterpillars swarming around the back porch searching for food. People here love the monarchs and a lot of them plant swan plants especially for the butterflies. Local people sometimes send desperate calls to talk-back shows wanting swan plants for their hungry hordes. I was amused by a male friend who arrived with a shoe-box full of starving caterpillers. I first tried pumpkin which they ate but didn't survive their pupate properly. Then I discovered a prolific growing creeper with a milky sap that I nicknamed the moth plant (moths got their feelers stuck on the sticky seeds of the flowers and were trapped). Although the caterpillars didn't lay eggs on the moth plant they thrived and I had a lot of butterflies.

Sadly, the last year or so, small wasps have appeared and stripped the caterpillars from the swan plant. I was delighted when I saw a lone fat caterpillar on the swan plant but less than pleased at the sight of the small wasp blitzing it. I nicknamed the caterpillar Fred and transferred him inside for safety. I hung a pot-plant from a hook in the patio and placed Fred and swan plant fodder on top of the pot. It could only be a day or so before Fred turned into a pupa.

But horrors, Fred disappeared. Even though the room was searched minutely there was no sign of him. We gave up after a day or so - Fred was history. I was marching through the patio when I paused - Ollie was watching the place where I was going to put my foot with deep interest. Yes, it was Fred, striding along briskly on all his legs - he must have over-balanced from the pot and fallen on the floor.

I put him back outside on the swan plant. Braving wasp attacks had to be preferable to being squashed.

Later we were all rewarded. Fred pupated on the window sill and emerged in glorious orange and black. Ollie, his saviour, loved him. He danced around the garden with Fred leaping and twisting, launching himself into the air from the top of the rubbish bin. Later I found the cat watching another caterpillar on the swan plant. Perhaps Ollie's presence will help keep the wasps away - I hope so.


Editor's note:

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