Towards the middle of June, my wife had purchased some herbs to plant on our deck. One herb in particular attracted the attention of 6 Black Swallowtail Butterfly caterpillars. Within days they had torn the 2 plants we had apart, and we’d gotten to watch them go through steps in their life cycles. Each stage is marked by stillness at the start, then a shudder, then they will shed their old bodies and move into the next cycle. After the first 2 plants were nearly reduced to roots, my wife bought 2 more, and we moved the catapilars inside. 3 would leave, but not before one was eaten by a bird. One more would disappear inside the house, never to be seen again. Leaving only, as Cyrus named him, Gerald.
I recorded 2 of his changes using time lapse photography. The videos aren’t perfect, but I think they are worth watching a few times just to catch the little details.
Gerald became big, eventually settled on to a branch of the dill plant, and became still. Once I felt his next stage was coming I set up the camera rig. The timer was set to 1 picture every minute. The camera observed him for almost a day before the change came. I’m really happy I noticed that he was about to start changing, because the whole process actually takes place really rather quickly. While walking by I noticed Gerald has started to spasm. He’d been still for so long, and I kinda panicked. He was changing faster than the camera was prepared for, so I quickly adjusted the timer down to one shot every 2 second… but the light was too low for the camera to move that fast! So quickly I found a flashlight in a kitchen drawer to cast more light on him so the camera could adjust.
Well, it just made the change a bit more creepy really…
So, Gerald was a chrysalis now. We were all very excited!
We waited. And waited… and waited… to the point where my wife and I privately wondered that he hadn’t made it. He was supposed to take between 7-11 days for the next change, but it was now over 2 weeks…
Then one morning on my way to work I noticed he had started to change again. His shell started to blacken at the top. I knew it was time to set the camera up again. This last change took only a few hours. Unfortunately….
Well, Gerald pretty much JUMPS out of his chrysalis between frames. I was shooting 1 picture every 30 seconds, and that was apparently way too slow. My mother-in-law (Cindy) happened to be there and moved the camera to bring him in focus again while he flexed his wings.
While the big moment was mostly missed, the little changes in his surface prior to his emergence are fascinating.
We hope to set up a butterfly garden in the back next year. I’m not really good at growing plants, but I think I can manage the weeds and herbs that butterflies likes, so I’m going to give it a shot. Butterflies are like flowers in motion really, and I think that is nice.
Gerald was released into the wild shortly after the camera stopped shooting. My wife, my daughter, and myself saw him off. It was a lovely little experiment I shall look to repeat.