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Cabbage White Butterfly Update (Large White)

July 27, 2015

Last summer I gathered 23 tiny cabbage white butterfly caterpillars from my garden. I fed them and raised them until they were mature enough to pupate and then I wrote all about my observations.

When the caterpillars were ready to come out as butterflies I wrote about that too, but three pupated caterpillars stayed behind and now exactly one year later the experience has finally drawn to a conclusion, so I’m ready to tell you about what I did with those stubborn little bugs.

The caterpillars pupated on the first of July 2014 and they started to emerge 2 weeks later. By the time July was coming to a close I still had three pupas. One of them looked like it was probably dead because it had started to change color, as they do right before the butterfly pushes its way out, but it just sort of stopped, turned grey and began to look dry and dull.

The other two pupas were green, plump and shiny and when I stroked them gently through the habitat they twitched, which to me implied that they were very much alive, so I kept them.

Then summer turned to autumn and I figured that those little guys would be spending the winter with us. I found it odd that some of the caterpillars from an early summer batch of siblings (all the same age) would end up on a different schedule than the rest but that’s exactly what happened.

So I kept the habitat by the window all winter. It was a bit of an eyesore keeping insects at eye level smack in the middle of the kitchen, but my husband is very understanding. The reason why I kept them by the window is because daylight is what determines their schedules so, for them to know it was winter, they needed to be exposed to the natural light. This is the same spot I kept the rest of them throughout their chrysalis and caterpillar days so that they maintained their summer schedule.

In the months that followed I periodically stroked the two I suspected to still be living to make sure they were alive and they continued to twitch in response. They also remained plump, shiny and a consistent shade of light green.

My expectation was that since they spent the winter pupated, they would be among the first of the summer butterflies to emerge, but when May came and I started to see cabbage white butterflies in the garden I grew a bit sceptical about my kitchen lodgers.

By the time June rolled around, almost a year later I started putting them outdoors to see if the fresh air would stimulate them into coming out but it didn’t make any difference. In June they also stopped responding to being stroked and one fell down from the side of the habitat when the wind rolled it in my garden. The one that fell down turned grey and I was 99% sure that whatever was inside had died but because it changed color I still had a tiny speck of hope for the light green, plump and shiny one that still remained attached.

On the 20th of June we went to the United States to visit family for over three weeks. At this point the remaining caterpillar had been pupated for over a year, it no longer moved and I had given up hope so I didn’t ask anyone to babysit it, however that turned out to be a mistake.

When we came home on the 15th of July I discovered a dead butterfly in the habitat. A male. It had decided to finally come out, but I wasn’t here to release it… so it died… and I feel pretty bad about that, however the whole year and a bit of an experience was certainly one of learning and raising caterpillars is actually something I’ve always wanted to do so I’m glad that I had the opportunity.

Next year I plan to order my daughter some eggs or tiny caterpillars for her birthday to get some more use out of that habitat and to teach her about life cycles because keeping critters is something I was always fascinated with as a child.

The wildlife is far less abundant where I live in Scotland than it is in Rhode Island where I grew up, but I’ve found ways to make the most of it.

From → Garden, Scotland

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