Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Butterfly House pt. 1

A pair of Citrus Swallowtails in my Caterpillar

Hey guys,

Okay, second post in less than one hour! And although it may look like I post a whole lot often those of you who've read my other blog will probably know that I really don't update all that much unless there is something truly new and/or interesting to talk about. But just to get the preliminaries out of the way so I don't have to repeat myself again I would like to introduce you to my Butterfly House project. The Butterfly House project was designed as a breeding station for specific breeds of butterflies - usually those that took my particular fancy - to the effect that a sustainable butterfly population can be established within an area, in this case, my housing area. Of course there were many environmental concerns I took into consideration before beginning this project in earnest but after consulting with a fellow lepidopterist I decided to go ahead with the project under the condition that only locally found butterflies be bred (the consequences of inserting foreign butterflies into our local ecosystems could be potentially devastating). But of course the main challenge I faced was, how to procure the butterfiles and indeed how to keep them - without the need of a netting or enclosure of any sort - within a certain area. The answer, food plants of course! I learnt that butterflies, in the wild, often had to fly for miles in order to find the right foodplants for their larvae but also flowers with which to feed on. Provide enough of both in any certain area and the butterflies are almost quite certain to stay. I have always had a particular fondness for swallowtails and decided to begin with one of the easier and more common species - the Citrus Swallowtail (Papillio Demoleus)

Eventually, after setting up the right plants for the butterflies and their larvae to feed in, I was ready for my first go at breeding butterflies. Indeed within two weeks of introducing the various flowering shrubs, creepers and herbs, flocks of butterflies were already beginning to show their appreciation by flocking to the Garden in numbers. The first few that made their appearances were mostly Striped Albatrosses (Appias Libythea) and Peacock Pansies (Junonia Almana) of whom I am also particularly partial to. However, it wasn't long before my first pair of breeding Demolues' came by, attracted no doubt by the large concentration of citrus plants. To protect the larvae from predators (as I had to ensure that as many butterflies survived as possible for the first generation) I deftly scooped up the breeding pair in my trusty Elastic Insect Catcher Net and into the prototype of my caterpillar nursery, really a makeshift laundry bin as shown below.

The results were pretty promising. The Breeding Pair were released after the female had laid her eggs and though not all of them hatched (indeed I think some of the early hatchers ate their siblings!) those that did all turned into butterflies and were subsequently released thus establishing the first population of Citrus Swallowtails in the Garden. The first few months of establishing the wild Citrus Swallowtail population involved a lot of captive breeding and raising of the larvae to ensure that the butterfly numbers would remain fairly constant throughout. Below are some of the pictures from my first batch of caterpillars and butterflies 

Citrus Swallowtail larvae
Citrus Swallowtail chrysalis
 Next up, how the Common Mormon (P. Polytes) butterfly found its way into my collection.

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