Possumhaw: Imagine a world of butterflies

August 18, 2014 10:12:01 AM

Shannon Bardwell - [email protected]


"The fluttering of butterflies' wings can effect climate change on the other side of the planet." 


Paul Erlich, American biologist and educator 




It was nightfall when I slipped to the garden to spy on the parsley. I hoped to catch the caterpillars sleeping. Their tiny heads were nodded forward; they appeared to be sleeping, as everything sleeps. There was no munching of parsley as they had done during daylight hours. Most of the lacy parsley leaves were gone, so they clung to the naked stems like a flagpole. How many people get to witness caterpillars sleeping? 


The next morning I was out early to check on my brood. Three were sleeping and one was munching. It was still early yet. The sleepers were somewhat in the shape of a chrysalis, so I wondered if they would morph right there in front of me or was it just their sleeping position. Would they winter on the parsley stems? Would it be safe? 


Sam says, "You can google it and find out," and most often I eventually do just that. But sometimes I prefer to watch and see for myself. I enjoy the wonder of waiting to see what will happen. With so much information available instantly we lessen our ability to wonder, to reason, to enjoy the process, to wait. I wanted my own discovery; so I resisted googling, at least for a few days. 


The following afternoon I checked the caterpillars again. Much to my dismay, three were gone. The smallest clung to the parsley stem. What could have happened to the others?  


The parsley is planted in a window box which makes it all the more unlikely that the caterpillars wandered off. I looked around and found nothing but the single, small caterpillar clinging to the parsley stem. There was nothing physical to protect him or conceal him. 


I arrived the next morning to find the caterpillar still there, but now there was a vivid green chrysalis attached at the bottom of the stem and supported at the top by two silken threads held taut like guide wires. Where had he come from? And where had he been? And where were the other two? I thought about the possibility of passing birds. Though the caterpillar is supposed to smell and taste bad, a bird snatching is a possibility. The caterpillars were vulnerable and visible.  


National Audubon Society Field Guide of Butterflies reveals the chrysalis may overwinter, unless this happens to be the last brood of the season. I resisted the temptation to move the entire plant with the chrysalis to a safer environment. This is the resting place that the caterpillar chose and so I would not tamper. I was hoping the small caterpillar would have enough to feed. Until I could get more parsley I draped a bit of dill on the parsley stems. OK, I may have tampered a bit, but if I'm lucky the metamorphosis will take place and out from the chrysalis will come the Eastern Black Swallowtail and the Prairie will have produced one more butterfly for mankind.

Shannon Rule Bardwell is a Southern writer living quietly in the Prairie.