A Week in the Life of a Plain Tiger Butterfly

By Amita Nadkarni

Insects are all around us and dwell in our homes, gardens, and backyards. Being a nature lover I have always had a strong fondness for animals, and a tolerant side towards insects. However, this tolerance changed to fascination one sunny evening when we took my five-year-old son to our backyard, which we named the “Insect Yard.” My son is a huge fan of insects and loves spotting them wherever he goes. He becomes very happy when he spots beautifully crafted spider webs in open drains.

While we were randomly taking our evening walk, he called out to us in excitement. He had found a green, yellow, and black-striped caterpillar that was busy munching away on a milkweed plant. The caterpillar was so well camouflaged that we were quite surprised that he’d found one.

“Let’s take it home,” he said. So we did it, and carefully placed it in a fishbowl with sticks, pebbles, stones, and some leaves to match its natural surroundings. We had no idea what we were going to do with it. It felt like being parents for the second time, but to a unique and beautiful being — a caterpillar.

“Let’s name it Catty,” said my son. So now with a newly found identity, foster parents, and the comfort of a concrete home, we were hopeful that Catty would stay with us and successfully undergo the process of metamorphosis. Thanks to the new age of the Internet and the availability of knowledge at one’s fingertips, I quickly went through some websites on rearing caterpillars and got some valuable tips.

First, caterpillars only eat their host leaves. They are very particular and certain species only eat certain leaves from their “host plants.” If they do not get these leaves, they will simply die of starvation. We went for walks every evening and collected milkweed leaves and put them into Catty’s bowl. Catty munched on them all day long, and we would run every evening to our garden to collect more leaves.

Next, I learned that caterpillars molt and excrete all the time. Bringing up a cute little caterpillar is not a very easy task. It requires a lot of dedication and patience. Caterpillars shed their skins and excrete a lot. We had to clean our caterpillar’s fishbowl every day. By the evening, there would be a lot of excreta and molted skin in the base of the bowl. Not cleaning the bowl for even a day would mean a lot of filth, which would harm Catty’s health. Catty was lucky to be well looked after, with fresh leaves every day and clean surroundings.

After two days of eating, excreting, and shedding skin, Catty suddenly refused to eat. I tried feeding him three different times, but he was plainly refusing! I was a little worried. After searching for more information, I found that there comes a time when caterpillars stop eating and look for a place to transform into a pupa (also known as a chrysalis if it’s a butterfly caterpillar). I did not try to persuade Catty further, as I knew it was time for him to take another form. I left him undisturbed, and he finally settled down and stuck to the bowl.

The next morning there was a transformation! Catty appeared to be inside a beautiful, light-brown pupal case. It had a crown-like beading around the neck, and it looked like a beautiful jewel box. This new form was here to stay for at least seven days. There was no movement and the pupa stood still.

As the days passed, we could see continuous development happening inside, with color changes, the appearance of light wings, legs, and the outline of the butterfly. The grubby caterpillar was undergoing so much change, which made me realize that every creature — tiny or big — changes so much during its life!

Exactly one week passed, and there it was -– Catty had changed into a beautiful plain tiger butterfly, also known as an African monarch (Danaus chrysippus), and we could see that he was a male because of the black-and-white spots on his hind wings. He seemed tired, and was mildly flapping his wings now and then. After being in a rather stationary mode for an hour, he finally fell to the bottom of the fishbowl.

Struggling to gain balance on the slippery glass, we realized that Catty was now ready — with his wings dry — to be let out in the backyard, which was filled with flowers and milkweed plants. We put him on a plate and then slowly onto a plant. The butterfly sat very still for a few minutes, and then he flew away to the skies, far away from us but close to his natural surroundings.

“It sure is a great feeling to fly free,” he seemed to be saying, and we will cherish this moment in our hearts forever.

——————————

Amita Nadkarni lives with her husband and son in the city of Chennai in Tamil Nadu, India. She completed her master’s degree in business economics at the University of Madras and now works as a freelancer.

Comments

  1. parikshit says:

    Very well.written and totally enjoyed reading it!

  2. Amita, build on and share more joy with more kids to love and respect butterflys.

  3. Well written, informative and very interesing!

  4. AMITA. Its really a fantastic job and really appreciate the efforts and the enthusiasm of your son towards nature. Hats off my friend ! Keep the good work continuing …….

  5. Nirmala Mudbidri says:

    Very proud of you …my darling daughter….your sincerity and hard work is being recognised

  6. Trupti Kalbag says:

    Great article and lovely pictures Amita. Looking forward to more such articles from you.

  7. Very well written Amita,I’m so glad you can be such a good role model for Ved.I hope his fascination for nature remains forever!!

  8. Thanks everybody. Its indeed strange that life drew us to a tiny caterpillar to learn, draw inspiration and wonder at its marvels. To me the process of metamorphosis which I witnessed frame by frame was so amazing , that I felt the strong urge to write and share my experience. Thank you sir Richard Levine and team at the Entomological Society of America for giving recognition,appreciation and finally publishing it. Entsoc made me really feel happy today

  9. Thanks, Amita. It was a really nice story :)

  10. Very well written Amita. Look forward to more such.

  11. raje and krupal says:

    Well written amitha, keep up the good job

  12. Awesome. … In the mechanical lives that we lead today we hardly have the time to take a breath of fresh air leave alone admiring nature. .. What you did will teach your kid a very important lesson and help shape his life even. .. I really admire you for it and hope I’ll be able to do the same for my kid!

  13. Hari and Mathana says:

    Well written article! Amita.

  14. Thanks for sharing this wonderful experience, Amita. Hope this article will encourage many to preserve these beautiful creatures!!!

  15. Hi very nice article I enjoyed it.Good part is you and your son care for mother nature keep it up..

  16. Extremely well observed and penned down. Truly you are a naturist Amita :)

  17. Ami ! You continue to inspire me with every attempt of your kind gesture.I’m extremely proud to have such an amazing friend whose filled with compassion not only to human beings but also to things related to nature. Love the way its written ami. Keep up the good work.

  18. Well written column Amita, looking to read more such columns
    (Sharing this to my friends now)

  19. Fabulous achievement. This should inspire you to write many more articles like this in future . Very proud of you

  20. Amita your write up is very inspiring and shows your concern for  insects too. We
    have all learnt about metamorphosis in our science books , and you are indeed lucky to experience it first hand. Now whats the next one on??. i am waiting …..

  21. Manjula Roy says:

    Dear Amita a natural interest in insects led to this beautiful article for all readers to enjoys thanks to your son Ved who is awed by his insect yard he calls it. The credit goes to you too in researching and helping this little caterpillar metamorphosise into this beautiful butterfly called Catty in your home under his very eyes What a great experience for all you The photographs were great too .Yours and Veds contribution in the future will be something all readers will look forward to .We are very proud of you hope to see more articles from you love Manju &Asok

  22. Amita very good write up. It was interesting and kept me engrossed till i completed reading it. Looking forward to more soon

  23. Umeshwari Nadkarni says:

    Amita, both the article and the pictures were an absolute delight. Looking forward to reading more from you. Much love, Anirudh, Umeshu & Nandan.

  24. Very well written article Amita :-) …. You are not only a role model for Ved but for each of us who want to get connected to nature …keep up the great work

  25. Lovely, heart-warming story! Really enjoyed reading this well written piece, Amita! Wishing you many more of such lovely adventures with Ved :)

  26. What a wonderful story. Well written!

  27. Well written hopeful and Inspiring! – Sravan

  28. Amita, that is great write up. Nice to see that you are passing your love for animals to your kid. It is best way to teach what life is all about. I do the same with my kids and they get so facinated and want to spend thier time out doors exploring. Keep it up.

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