This is the sixth post in my monthly series on the fascinating nature I encounter here in South Africa. I’ll be back with another crochet post tomorrow!
How could I possibly top last month’s wildlife post? Short of going on a safari, I don’t think it’s going to get much more impressive than penguins and whales and lizards and dassies, all in one day! So I’m narrowing my focus a bit and I’m going to show you something much closer to home (my own back garden, in fact) that’s an absolute miracle of nature.
As you may remember, a few months back, we noticed some weird blobs on the wall of our house, that turned out to be Garden Acraea butterfly cocoons. It turns out that we have a perfect butterfly ecosystem in our garden: we have a Wild Peach (kiggelaria africana) tree (unfortunately no relation to an edible peach) where the butterflies lay their eggs.
The wild peach is the larger, darker tree at the back. The butterfly wall (left of photo) faces the tree.
As winter ended and spring began (I’m in the southern hemisphere, remember), the cycle started up, and I’ve been able to observe the whole fascinating process just by stepping out into my garden!
After hatching, the little caterpillars feast on the wild peach leaves (which grow back quickly – don’t worry about the tree). Apparently cuckoos eat the caterpillars, although I’ve yet to spot one on our tree. And when the wild peach fruits ripen (from February) they apparently attract a whole host of different birds, so I’ll report back if we see anything interesting 🙂
Baby caterpillars and munched leaf
When the caterpillars are fully grown, they find a convenient sunny wall to attach themselves to before pupating. They spin a silk mat and grip onto it with proleg hooks called crochets (of course, crochet means hook in French, so that’s not really a huge coincidence, but it still made me smile!)
You can see the silk mat clearly when the caterpillars form their chrysalises on a window instead of the wall. (This butterfly had just emerged from his chrysalis.)
So here’s the puzzle: how does that butterfly, with those big wings, come from that skinny little chrysalis?
Like this! As the butterflies emerge, the wings are curled and crumpled. They straighten and unfurl, in the slowest of slow motion. Here’s a sequence of photos to demonstrate:
This takes about an hour. At the end of this the wings are really frail and floppy – the slightest breeze makes them flap all over the place and almost pulls the butterfly from the wall! The butterfly rests with all her wings held together so the wind doesn’t catch them and waits for another hour or so while her wings strengthen. Then she abandons the cocoon and climbs slowly up the wall, flapping her wings to test them:
And then she’s off!
Flying back to the wild peach tree
Nature is pretty amazing, don’t you think?
Whatever else is going on, there’s magic everywhere in the world if you just slow down and look for it. Today I’m sharing mine with you – I hope you enjoyed it!