Tag Archives: insects

Shirley the Wanderer

Shirley the Wanderer Butterfly flew away this afternoon – on a day when it was supposed to rain heavily, but didn’t; and there was very little breeze, either, which is unusual, so it was surprisingly good weather for her release.

I couldn’t decide whether to let her go today or not. It’s supposed to be windy for the rest of the week – up to 45km/h on Wednesday – with showers, and I read online that rain is dangerous for butterflies.

But it seemed like she wanted to get back outside: whenever I gave her the opportunity to fly around the kitchen, she flew straight to the window. So I decided to let the other butterflies decide: if there were others flying around this morning, I would release Shirley today.

And there were others. Here’s the first one I saw, feeding on flowers:

butterfly feeding on flowers

You can tell he’s a male because of the two small areas of dark colour on his hind wings, as illustrated on a great site about Monarch Butterflies (which is what the Wanderers are called in North America), Journey North: Monarch Butterfly.

I took Shirley out to the hill where most of the appropriate weeds are, but even though she was out of the container and there were other butterflies whizzing past us now and then, she didn’t move, just sat on my hand and did nothing. I still wasn’t feeling confident about releasing her anyway, so I packed up and took her home again when a shower of rain headed our way:

rainy valley from under an umbrella

I think she probably needed to warm up in the sun for a while before she could get going (somewhere I read that’s what they do), and there wasn’t any sun today.

But by the middle of the day, when there was still no breeze, and still no rain, I gave her a feed of sugar water and we headed out to the hill again. She sat on the edge of the container for at least five minutes while I walked around the hillside, looking for the greatest number of flowering weeds:

butterfly and a valley

Here is A. the dog surrounded by weeds, but they don’t show up well against the grass:

dog on a hillside among weeds

And here’s one final shot of little Shirley:

butterfly and flowers

I propped her two front feet onto the flowers, thinking it would encourage her to start feeding, or moving, but she didn’t seem interested. Then I spotted an ant running around on a flower, and tried to flick it away, thinking it might try to attack Shirley if there were any traces of her sugar-water feed left for it to find. And that’s when she flew away. I didn’t even see her fly up – I think I was still focusing on the damn ant and was too slow to react when she took off. I didn’t even see which direction she headed. I started watching a butterfly who I thought was her, and then realised it wasn’t, and by then it was too late to find out where she’d gone.

Now, in the middle of the night, it’s finally raining. I hope she’s okay out there.

Wanderer Butterfly

The Wanderer Butterfly (Danaus plexippus, also known as the Monarch Butterfly) from the cobweb yesterday seems to be doing okay, I think. If there’s no wind in the morning, I’ll release it tomorrow.

I wondered about releasing it this morning, and took it outside:

butterfly standing on my hand

I tried to give it a feed of sugar water, but it wasn’t interested:

butterfly standing on a feeder

Then it flew up and away – but when it got to the level of the house’s roof, it dropped into the gutter as though it had died in mid-air. I had to scramble up on a kitchen stool to find it again:

butterfly sitting in a roof gutter

It spent the day in the kitchen, flying around when I could be bothered watching it, or back in its overnight container, hanging upside down from the net food-cover which is acting as the roof.

I went out into the paddocks to get some flowering weeds for it to find nectar in (the right sort of weed, Asclepias physocarpa – really loathesome stuff that I HATE WITH A VENGEANCE) but it showed no interest:

butterfly standing on weeds

The terrible weed – the Asclepias physocarpa – has moved up the valley over the last decade or so. It didn’t exist here when I was a kid, but now it’s everywhere, almost blanketing the whole farm. One year I tried to stop the advance by uprooting all the plants on part of the closest hillside, but of course that did nothing at all, and by the next year the whole hill was covered in the things. I hadn’t noticed there were butterflies associated it, and today I saw only about ten flying around, even though there are hundreds or maybe thousands of weeds, and I saw only five caterpillars, too.

Anyway, back to this particular butterfly, who I’ll now call Shirley instead of “it” – because it makes me laugh to say “Surely, Shirley!” or “Shirley? Surely!”. Also, “Shirley” goes well with “George”, the name I gave the Water Dragon, so there’s that.

Shirley had only two small feeds today: nothing from the weed flowers, and she didn’t like canned peaches; so, all she had was a small amount of sugar water vacuumed up from a saturated piece of old towelling on my finger:

butterfly on a feeding pad on my finger

I think there might be some cobweb or other alien substance stuck to the end of her proboscis (the tube-like thing she drinks with). I couldn’t see well enough to get a proper grasp with the tweezers, afraid I might squish something important instead of removing the extraneous whatever-it-is. But in this photo there’s definitely an oval yellow-coloured thing where the proboscis is looped around under her face. When the proboscis unfurls, the yellow-coloured thing sits at the end of it where it meets the food source – which could be a problem when she’s trying to eat, obviously.

close-up of butterfly

I think she wanted to leave the house today, but it became quite windy this afternoon, and the butterflies I did see were being tossed around in the rowdy air currents, so I thought it might be too dangerous for Shirley’s wings. When I was washing dishes at the kitchen sink, she was clinging to the insect screen of the kitchen window:

butterfly hanging on a window insect-screen

She also spent a lot of time hanging upside down. Here she is underneath a fly swat that I’d propped up – something I used to get her back down from the top of the kitchen window whenever she ventured up there. If I stuck the swat in front of her, she’d climb onboard and hang there, and I could then transport her back down to the benchtop, and she’d hang around again:

butterfly hanging upside down

More news tomorrow, if she’s still around in the morning.

Butterfly rescue

This afternoon I rescued a butterfly from a spider’s web. Here it is, after its traumatic day, having a little feed of sugar water (thanks to Butterfly Rescue International’s page on feeding butterflies):

a butterfly standing on and eating from some fabric soaked in sugar water

Bonus fact for the day: according to the link above, butterflies taste with their feet!

This butterfly had been wrapped into a web that was strung between two rows of coffee trees. I often find and release insects that have stuck flat onto such webs (it’s easy enough to let them go if they haven’t struggled – you just peel them off and away they fly). But this butterfly was tightly wound up, as though cocooned. I wish I’d taken a photo, because it wasn’t even clear what sort of creature it was, or whether it was still alive.

I brought it back to the house, still wrapped up, wondering if I should try to release it. Is it better to let nature take its course in such matters, or to intervene? I don’t know. It’s always just me guessing, based on whether I feel like trying to help or not, never knowing whether my idea of “help” corresponds with what the patient would be asking for, if it could ask, or if I could hear it.

This time I wanted to try so I could see what happened. I wasn’t even sure it was alive, after all, so this was an exercise in curiosity and hoping-for-the-best.

I dipped the wrapped-up creature into tepid water, thinking that might help lower the friction or the stickiness of the web. But in fact I think the water might have made things worse: it seemed like the web got stickier than it was already, as though the water had turned the stickiness into glue.

It was a really strong web, too, like a very fine fishing line, so I took to it with embroidery scissors and needle-nose tweezers, wearing a pair of stronger-strength reading glasses for added x-ray vision…

This operation did at least extract the butterfly from the cobweb. Afterwards it was able to walk around and to feed, but it didn’t try to move its wings, so maybe it can’t; and those wings looked quite fragile and unnaturally shiny:

butterfly with outstretched wings looking fragile

We’ll see what happens in the morning, I guess. It’s in a container overnight, and I hope it’s getting some sleep, if butterflies do that. I think it’s a Wanderer butterfly (Danaus plexippus), by the way; in North America it would be called a Monarch.

Web style

I hate it when I stumble over photos of snakes without warning. I’m scared of snakes, and even just a photo of one can make me panic for a minute.

I’m not scared of spiders, but if you are, take note that after the break there’ll be two spider photos.

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