Our compact car gathers no reindeer antlers, no Rudoph nose, no Santa hat. Zero, zip, zilch, nada.
Our HOUSE exudes “Merry Christmas!” but our CAR does not.
It chortles “Merry Chrysalis!”
“Merry Chrysalis?” Yes, thanks to an escapee, a Gulf Fritillary caterpillar, that is either Indiana Jones or Indiana Joan.
Our saga begins at high noon, Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019. We are transporting a pop-up butterfly habitat containing three life stages of Gulf Fritillary butterflies, Agraulis vanillae, to the UC Davis Bohart Museum of Entomology open house themed “Arthropod Husbandry: Raising Insects for Research and Fun.”
Our family rears butterflies, including Gulf Frits, in our pollinator garden in Vacaville. We happily agree to share with the Bohart Museum. Our “roll call” that day: two dozen Gulf Frit ‘cats, one adult that had just eclosed, and one chrysalis hanging on for dear life on the rim of the habitat.
The Bohart open house goes well. The ‘cats feast on the leaves of their host plant, passionflower vine. Visitors hold and photograph the caterpillars and the chrysalis, admire the reddish-orange Gulf Frit butterfly with its silver spangled wings, and ask questions of the presenter, entomology student Andrew Goffinet. He fields questions on butterflies and how to raise them, drawing in visitors ranging from pre-school to senior citizens.
Toward the end of the open house, a parent asks me if I could "possibly" donate the caterpillars and the habitat to an elementary school classroom.
“Sure," I say. "You can have them--the caterpillars and the habitat. One thing though, the net has a tiny hole on the side. You can just tape it over with duct tape and it will be fine.”
We head home, sans Gulf Frits. We have plenty more.
Days crawl by. End of November. Beginning of December. Now it's Christmas Week. It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas.
Yesterday Jack Frost gifts us with ice on the car windows. We head out to the car to defrost the windows, in preparation for our dog's daily trip to the park. We open the back door. As we adjust the disheveled dog blanket on the seat, we happen to look up.
Wait, what's that on the top of the rear window? It's beginning to look a lot like….chrysalis?
Yes, a chrysalis. A Gulf Fritillary chrysalis.
Apparently, on the drive from Vacaville to Davis on Nov. 16, an adventuresome ‘cat had squirmed out of the tiny hole, eventually crawled up the back seat, and wriggled up to the window.
Now what? Big mistake. There's no food here! Nothing to munch, nothing to crunch. No passionflower vine. Maybe I'll just hang out.
The ‘cat forms a chrysalis, a very sickly looking chrysalis, the Tiny Tim of all chrysalids.
All I want for chrysalis is…
We'll see what happens.
Meanwhile, have a very merry Christmas--or if you happen to have a chrysalis hanging out on the rear window of your car this holiday season, have a very, merry chrysalis.
Some people are born good-looking. Some have the gift of gab. And some are lucky enough to be born smarter than the rest of us. Whether we like it or not, Mother Nature does not dole these characteristics out evenly.--Simon Sinek
That applies to butterflies, too. Nobody said Mother Nature is perfect.
If you're rearing butterflies, such as Gulf Fritillaries (Agraulis vanillae), expect to see some defects, deformities and death. That chrysalis you've been watching? A butterfly may never eclose. In the cycle of life, the transformation from egg to larva to pupa to adult may never occur.
Nobody said Mother Nature is perfect.
The chrysalis is a withered grayish-brown, perfectly camouflaged on the butterfly's host plant, the passionflower vine (Passiflora). Sometimes you see a burst of reddish-orange wings and sliver spangled underwings, the remains of a butterfly that struggled to eclose.
Then you wait for one that will, one that will eclose.
The next one will take your breath away. Mother Nature is like that.
It's Veterans' Day, and after paying tribute to the military veterans (my ancestors have fought in all of our nation's wars, dating back to the American Revolution--and my other half is a U.S. Air Force veteran), I slip out the back door to our pollinator garden to see where the insect action is.
Honey bees and a sole carpenter bee are buzzing on the African blue basil; Gulf Fritillaries are nectaring on the Mexican sunflower (Tithonia); and a cabbage white butterfly is sipping nectar from the Lantana.
But the passionflower vine (Passiflora) steals the show. A Gulf Fritillary has just eclosed from a chrysalis that resembles a thick wad of gum chewed up and spit out and left to mummify; several male Gulf Frits are fluttering around in search of females; and the offspring of previous reunions are crawling on the stems and munching what's left of the leaves.
Overhead, the California scrub jays glance down, as if trying to decide on their luncheon menu: a fat juicy caterpillar or the bird seed scattered in the feeder.
Their choice is clear. They forsake the fat juicy caterpillars for the bird seed. Tomorrow morning, however, there will be several caterpillars missing in action.
Yes, they're still there.
More today than yesterday. That's how it goes in the Magical World of Butterflies.
The Gulf Fritillaries (Agraulis vanillae) are keeping busy, and so is this insect wedding photographer trying to capture their images.
There! A Gulf Fritillary has just emerged from her chrysalis on the passionflower vine, and a suitor descends within minutes. He doesn't use any pick-up lines. He doesn't have to. In seconds, there's a twosome on the passionflower vine, something apparently rarely seen. (The Bohart Museum of Entomology, UC Davis, answers telephone calls from folks who excitedly proclaim they've found a "two-headed butterfly.")
Soon another suitor appears...three heads...a three-headed butterfly?...and flutters away.
Meanwhile, other brides and grooms meet and greet. It's like being on the Las Vegas strip with all the wedding chapels occupied.
Just another day in the Magical World of Butterflies.
Love is like a butterfly
A rare and gentle thing
--Love Is Like a Butterfly, Dolly Parton
When Dolly Parton penned her song, "Love Is Like a Butterfly," she probably wasn't thinking of passion butterflies, Gulf Fritillaries.
And when she sings that popular song, neither she nor her audience are thinking of Gulf Fritillaries (Agraulis vanillae), getting together on a Mexican sunflower, Tithonia rotundifolia.
But Lepidopterists, entomologists, horticulturists and insect photographers are.
It's autumn, approaching Halloween, and the Gulf Fritillaries are doing what comes naturally on their host plant, the passionflower vine. But sometimes you'll find them on the fence line, on the ground, or on a neighboring flower.
Then you make a beeline for your camera. It's insect wedding photography. The bride and the groom and the photographer. The sun is shining, the birds are singing, the flowers are producing nectar, the bees are buzzing, the crickets are chirping, and all's right with the world.
Love is indeed like a butterfly, "a rare and gentle thing."