Grand migrations of wildebeest make riveting armchair viewing – but here’s a much smaller intrepid tale.
It’s a prolific season for monarch butterflies here in Kapiti – almost anytime I look up, there are several flying around the swan plants, sipping from the echinacea, sitting sunning themselves in the golden glow of the Breath of Heaven bushes.
We watched an early caterpillar make a low-slung chrysalis on an iris
leaf, and eventually emerge into a butterfly. And of course, many full-sized caterpillars just disappeared.
We hoped they made chrysalises we simply couldn’t detect in the shrubbery – but feared they’d more likely succumbed to wasp larvae laid in their plump bodies.
And then – this remarkable journey.
Around here, we have sparrows with a habit of harvesting insects and spiders from the brick-work of our walls. They hover, dart, and cling in a most un-sparrow-like, but very effective way. We were watching one by the ranch-slider – suddenly saw a monarch chrysalis under the eaves.
It had crawled a good five metres over the grass, then another three up the rough brick, to anchor itself to the soffit.
I imagine it, all the time we thought it was totally focussed on the swan-plant leaf it was demolishing, actually gazing around and assessing chrysalis-sites. Those tiny eyes being able to even see so far. That tiny brain deciding that going so far, in the opposite direction to all the twigs and leaves and branches right beside it, was a good strategic move. Then – when? – perhaps at night? -setting off, down from the swan-plant, across the lawn, somehow holding its intended direction in its mind, to the wall, and up – there to make its silk fastener and start its transformation.
We watched it as we wined, and dined, and played chess at the outdoor table – then one day the dark veins of the wings were visible through the pale jade of the case.
The next morning, the case was transparent, and the monarch colours vivid through it. Then – the emergence.
There are so many things I wish I knew… like why and how the Altenrhein snail settled in the wind-machine – and now – why and how the monarch caterpillar chose its transformation-site.
But even not-knowing can be wonderful – and wonder-full.