Monday, 15 September 2008

Sweetly sleeping

In the last three months, I realise, we've discussed only two of the life stages of the moth, or butterfly. You've seen lots of adult insects and a few caterpillars. Here's the third stage: the chrysalis or pupa. I found them while cleaning out some flowerpots. Any crack or crevice at this time of the year may yield the same for you, specially in a shed or greenhouse or round the dustbins. My moth Bible even suggests that rural phone boxes and 'isolated lavatory blocks at campsites' are good places to look. I wouldn't go that far, but these apparently lifeless versions of the Egyptian mummy are amazing and fun to keep until they hatch. Inside those cases, two caterpillars are undergoing their extraordinary transformation into winged insects. With some chrysalises, the outer skin becomes partially transparent as the day of escape approaches, so that you can see the patterns and colouring inside, albeit squashed and vague in the way that things look through a frosted glass window. I've put them in a plastic box on our kitchen windowsill with some twigs inside for the moths to perch on as they dry and expand their wings - a process which takes half-an-hour or so and is wonderful to watch if your timing is lucky.
Here's another pic of one of the pupae, on the backdrop of the above-mentioned moth Bible's cover. I hope you are marvelling at the power of my Magnified Digital Photography. (No wobble...) If you click on either picture, you can see the wing cases of the pending moths and other details. Chrysalis, btw, comes from the Greek for gold, because many butterflies have strikingly spiky chrysalises ornamented with gold and silver dots. Pupa is from the Latin for a doll, which these do slightly resemble. They are not as inert as they look. If you squeeze them (very very gently), they flick their 'tails', the segmented horn in which the future insect's abdomen can be seen clearly. All we need now to complete the moth cycle, is to find some eggs. That's hard.

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