Saturday, May 03, 2014

Spread your wings

Okay, so Xena and I concluded a really phodu, really kickass home project today, and I absolutely have to blog about it.

About a week ago, one of the ladies in my mommies' group found a contact from a butterfly farm that sells caterpillars. Basically, you buy a caterpillar and you can watch it as it eats, grows, changes to a pupa and then emerges as a butterfly - the striped albatross. I was amazed because I'd not even thought it was possible to do this at home. But I was super excited; it sounded like a great project to do together with Xena. A few of us pooled our orders to get free delivery. The farm asked us to wait as they were waiting for a batch of eggs to hatch. In a few days, we had word that the eggs had hatched and the farm delivered 30 kits to the lady who was coordinating the purchase.

I got mine the next day. With trembling hands, I opened and studied the very green caterpillar, a tiny box of leaves and the instruction leaflet that came with it. The detailed instructions included how to feed the caterpillar, how to clean its poop (!) and what not. It really felt like I had just had another baby. Xena helped me out in taking care of it, but also kept asking to see it every 5 minutes so I placed it on a high shelf where she couldn't disturb it.

Our caterpillar, chilling amidst its food and poop

Watching the caterpillar eat made me realise how true the story of The Very Hungry Caterpillar is. My caterpillar was devouring the leaves at an alarming rate and because it only eats the leaves of its host plant, I was worried that I'd run out of leaves and have nothing to feed it. (Why do I always end up with kids that have feeding issues? One doesn't eat and the other eats too much!)

If you don't believe me, watch this video evidence I captured. Check out how fast it eats the leaf, almost like how characters in Tom and Jerry eat corn on the cob. Viv and I call it 'typewriter-style eating'.

Though I was worried about running out of leaves, I was also glad to see it eat so well because a couple of the caterpillars in our batch of 30 had already died. The farm told us that the survival rate is about 80%. In the wild, it's apparently only about 2% because of predators and harsh environmental conditions.

I couldn't get myself to go to sleep that night for fear of the caterpillar running out of leaves. The instructions asked to add in new leaves after the caterpillar had eaten everything to prevent drying out of the leaves, in which case it would reject them and go on a hunger strike! Stress stress! And just like how I used to wake up at odd hours at night and feed the newborn Xena, I found myself following a similar routine for the caterpillar. This continued for about two days. Feeding, cleaning poop (it kept pooping every few minutes!), feeding, cleaning poop. I told you. Exactly like a newborn.

On the third day, when I woke up, I saw it stuck to the wall of the box it came in, with not a single leaf or stem in sight. I panicked. Had it starved to death? I quickly put in new leaves but it didn't climb down to get them. I kept one near its mouth, but it didn't move. My heart sank. And suddenly I saw it move ever so slightly. Phew.

But it still didn't move down to eat the leaves. Perhaps it was pupating. There was hope. And then a day later, it started curling up from one end. At one point it looked like a seahorse. I kept thinking it was gone, and then something would happen to bring back hope. Finally, a day later, I saw the pupa shape that made me breathe a sigh of relief. I donated the rest of my caterpillar's leaves to another lady whose caterpillar had eaten the leaves, stems and the kitchen sink and was nowhere close to pupating.

The caterpillar turning into a pupa

Of course, there was no guarantee that the pupa would make it so I didn't want to raise Xena's hopes too much. I kept focusing on the current stage and pointing out whatever I could to her, and reminding her that if we disturbed the pupa, the butterfly might not come out. However, she was looking forward to seeing the butterfly. "Saturday ko pupa pop ho jaayega and butterfly baahar nikal jaayega!" She kept saying.

One night, there was a crazy thunderstorm and I got so worried wondering if it had stressed out the pupa. The instructions had said that any stress experienced by the caterpillar could make the activity fail. Fortunately, one of the other ladies reassured the paranoid me by reminding me that in nature, the thunderstorm would have been much more louder and stressful. Phew again. 

A day later, we could see the faint outline of a butterfly inside. Wooohoooo!

By evening, we could see the black lines on the wings of the butterfly. 

Close-up of the butterfly inside

Last night, around 3:30 am, I woke up with a bad headache. I went out to pop a painkiller and decided to check on the pupa too. To my utter horror, it was turning black on two sides. One of the other mommies had reported that her pupa had turned black and died, and nothing came out of it. So I took my painkiller, came back to bed, but I couldn't sleep. So I woke Viv up and told him that the pupa was turning black and that there might not be a butterfly. I tossed and turned in bed, wondering about what I'd tell Xena. However, at the back of my mind, there was a tiny shred of hope that maybe the blackness meant that the pupa was ready to open. 

This morning, we took Xena to see a fire station (she had been in hospital when her class had made the trip there, so I'd told her we'd take her after she recovered). Before leaving the house, I checked and the pupa still looked the same. I opened up a corner of the container in the hope that if the butterfly did come out, it wouldn't be trapped inside. Of course, there were air holes in the box and the instructions had said that the butterfly could stay in the box for up to a day to dry its wings before it was ready to fly off. 

We came back from the fire station around lunchtime and it still looked the same. We had lunch and though it had only been about 15 minutes, I checked on the pupa again, and OHMYGOODNESS there was a frickin' butterfly inside the box!!!!!!!! Next to a hollow pupal case!!1 Of course, that was what was supposed to happen, but it was a miracle nonetheless!!!! 

The butterfly remained stuck to the inner surface of the container's lid. Check out how much bigger it is compared to its pupal shell. 

I screamed my lungs out to beckon Viv and Xena so they could behold the miracle too. 

Xena is intrigued...


... and then just happy. 

The instructions asked to let the butterfly dry its wings properly before releasing it, so we left it in the box with the lid slightly open. In the late afternoon, I checked on it and the moment I touched the box, it fluttered its wings rapidly and flew off! Xena was taking her afternoon nap, and Viv suggested waking her up so she could witness its departure for herself. "If it's not here when she wakes up, she'd feel cheated" he said. I agreed. He got the sleepy little girl out to say goodbye to what she had named 'Lydia'. (Though google tells me that Lydia is a boy butterfly, let's not get into that.) We had meant to open the box in the garden area downstairs, but it seemed all ready to set off on its own. 

It sat on a wall for a very long time, still getting the hang of flying. And then suddenly it flew off and was gone from our lives. 

It was a very strange feeling. As I threw the box with the pupal shell and some poop and the dried leaves, a sense of wonder filled me. "I can't believe we bred a butterfly!" I told Viv. He guffawed at my 'bred a butter' (sheesh) before agreeing that it was indeed like magic. A green worm-like thing had just chomped on leaves like Kumbhakarna, gone on a dharna inside a case and within a week, turned into a beautiful butterfly.

I did miss the butterfly on some levels, because for the last week I'd been tending to it and checking on it very frequently. And just like that, it was gone. It had to go, of course. I'd explained to Xena very firmly that no matter how much she liked it, we had to release it so it could find its food and friends. And she had nodded along.

Xena seems to have taken the butterfly's departure quite well. And I have been left wondering how it would be when this other little butterfly of mine is ready to spread her wings and fly off into the big bad world.


Anonymous said...

Great post and great project!

Horizon said...

Wow--It must be so amazing to see the butterfly . Hurray!

How many days did it take in all?
Gr8 project indeed


Arun said...


My mental image of Singapore is as a highly urbanized area - but so nice it has a butterfly farm!

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for sharing the story and the pics. Despite learning the different stages in school, the last few stages were not at all what I pictured them to be. We live and learn :)

Obscure Optimist said...

wow, this was such a nice post...and a wonderful experiment with all your dramatic details made it an amazing read... you have captured all stages so beautifully...i was intrigued..

and that expression on xena's face - priceless! :)

Dew said...

I have been reading your blog from quite sometime. Posts about Xena are amazing, feel happy to read about her.

Awesome butterfly project ! You are one of the best mom and Xena is indeed every lucky to have you :)

Sandhya said...

Such a nice post! After I saw the last pic of the beautiful butterfly, I scrolled up the page again to see the pic of the green worm. What a transformation!

Prathima said...

So Xena had a temporary sibling :-)

With regard to the last line in your post, I feel our parents are great not just for how they brought us up but for the fact that they let us go no matter how much they want to hold on to us. Few years down the line, it will be our turn :(

Thisisme said...

Amazing post!!! Loved every bit of it !!

Ritu Raj said...

Great Post!! You guys keep doing amazing stuff.

May the voracious eating habits of the caterpillar help Xena increase her bits and bytes.

Unknown said...

Amazing writings! A bit lengthy but i enjoyed every bit of it.

Unknown said...

Great post! The last line made me very emotional :)

Thisisme said...

Couldn't comment properly but I think its amazing to do something like that... Never thought one could pet a caterpillar !! As a kid, I used to hate caterpillars as I felt they destroyed leaves ..but to see this process makes u realise how awesome nature is!!

Xena must have enjoyed this a lot! I have had many chicken on the farm when I was a kid n used to name each of them n take care if them...i also used to compete with my brother on whose chicken laid more eggs!! Lol

Now I got some chicks at home for my niece ..n she was thrilled ..the house was buzzing till the day they grew up n we decided to give them away !!we also have a dog so we had to guard those chicks all the time lol

All in all..such fun things to do! U can also motivate Xena..tell her how caterpillar ate so much n so grew up into lovely butterfly :-) :-) :-)

Keirthana said...

You have walked us through an amazing experience. After reading your post, I wish I could do this too.