Sunday, June 30, 2013

Caterpillar sheds its skin to find a butterfly within...

A couple of weeks ago whilst out walking in the sunshine,I came across a stand of nettles at the edge of a footpath and spotted some small tortoiseshell butterfly caterpillars grouped together, as they do when they are recently emerged.


I was intrigued as I watched them doing something that seems to be a kind of collective defense mechanism, to warn of potential predators-that is, this 'twitching' movement...

The usual reminder here that you will not see these videos in an e.mailed version of the blog-you will need to visit direct.

Anyhow,I decided that as there were quite a few, I'd take home a small amount to observe and try to photograph through to the butterflies emerging.

By day 7 of watching the caterpillars feeding on fresh nettle that I provided each day, they began to step up their intake...and output come to that, as they began to consume as much as possible before pupation.

Overnight on the seventh and early on the 8th day, they all became golden pupae...

They really are one of nature's many wonders...

And so the constant replacing of food plant and cleaning out of the daily 'frass' had come to an end and now they were to remain motionless until the next stage of metamorphosis was done. Well, no actually! I had read that even at this stage it was possible for movement to be observed and had even seen the occasional twitch myself.

I wasn't prepared for what I witnessed next though....I have never seen this amount of movement before...

This is only a short clip from the video I took, the whole thing is over 10 minutes long and even then, there were other similar bouts during the same day and into the next.

As the time for the butterflies to emerge grew ever closer, the change in colour of the pupae became very noticeable and even the wing colour could be seen...

I set up the camera to try and catch one emerging and began a vigil to ensure I was ready. Several cups of coffee and toilet breaks later, followed by a period of about one hour's uninterrupted close quarter study and my patience was rewarded...

Once again,the video above is only a clip from the original to allow it to load on the blog in a reasonable amount of time. What a magical thing to be able to see at close range though...a real privilege.

There followed a period of twisting and pumping by the butterfly to inflate its wings fully that took quite a while, but eventually it began to resemble the insect we all know...

Eventually it began to exercise its wings in preparation for a maiden flight and I then placed it in the sun to warm itself fully. I took the following photograph, moments before that happened and it disappeared from sight...

I can report that not only did all of the caterpillars I brought home become beautiful small tortoiseshell butterflies, but having released them in a secluded local spot, I have since seen at least one happily sunning itself at the same location.

That's all for this time, until the next update, thanks for your interest,see you again very soon...


  1. This is the BEST Ever JJ.......such an...honor and treat !! Woww.....if it weren't for you, I'd probably Never in my life see this......and gosh, your photos and videos are exquisite here, beyond belief !.....Stella

  2. Thoroughly enjoyed reading this entry - and watching the clips.

  3. Thanks for your comments and enthusiasm Stella and pleased people are interested in my little blog.

  4. Absolutely brilliant photos and footage too JJ! It really is mesmerising watching the emerging butterfly!
    Like you I'm amazed at the amount of movement there is with the chrysalis; but then, when you think about what's going on in there!!
    A truly superb and inspirational blog entry!

    Best wishes


    PS Having issues with the new Flickr using up our monthly download allowance now!! Ho-hum! Might be joining others by having to leave too!

  5. Oh and PS: people are interested in your blog because YOU upload interesting things!! So thank YOU! Lol!

  6. Maria: Yes...I was reading about this being another problem with flickr just yesterday. It's so sad that it's gone this way in favour of, what seems to be a younger user target?

  7. Oooooh wonderful! Well done for getting the video and I'm rather envious because I never, ever find any butterfly caterpillars on nettles, despite having a huge wild garden full of them, and all the butterflies that lay their eggs on them visiting. I've spent hours staring at nettle leaves!

    The only other butterfly I could raise would be a Large or a Small White, but given that I have to, ahem, dare I admit here, ummmm let's say 'remove' the eggs and cats from my brassicas, it seems a bit wrong. Anyhow I see their eggs, caterpillars and chrysalises about the garden so not quite so special.

    1. Well I always look underneath nettle leaves as that's where I seem to find them but I have found the same with blackthorn...I keep hearing how good it is for inverts and yet I have not found anything on it yet.
      Personally, I don't have a problem removing things to study as long as they are well cared for and replaced after. In most cases you would actually be increasing their chances of survival...after all, it's how we learn? Good luck anyhow.

    2. lol no the word 'remove' was a euphemism for squidge them! I grow veggies and they are allowed to eat my nasturtiums but not my curly kale or purple sprouting brocolli! There are so many of them around here in the late summer/early autumn when my winter brassicas are trying to grow that I don't have any choice and their numbers are not declining. :-)

      I do look under nettle leaves too and turn them over when I have gloves on, but still nothing! And as for the follower problem, maybe Google is playing up. :-/

  8. Oh and I meant to say that I have tried 3 times to 'follow' your blog and it keeps telling me I am following publically, but my piccy doesn't appear in your followers list. Never mind I have added your blog to my feedly subscriptions so I will see your updates. :-)

    1. Hmm... not sure what the problem is here. I googled it and found that there are lots of folks who are experiencing the same though. By numbers, it does show you are a member but the photo is missing...maybe it'll right itself? I have checked all the settings I can with no result.


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