Saturday, September 01, 2007

A slow, slow metamorphosis? (UPDATED)

(Updated at end of post)
At the end of last summer, I had a few anise swallowtail caterpillars. They made their chrysalises. They turned into butterflies some days later. Well, some of them did. A few sleepyheads didn't emerge with their peers. By then it was October and I wondered if perhaps they would overwinter.

I had given one chrysalis, already conveniently attached inside a little pop-up bug tent, to my neighbor, so she could see the butterfly up close when it emerged, and then release it. (a post shows it here) Initially I told her it would eclose in about 2 weeks. Well, we kept waiting, and it didn't come out. A second slowpoke was hanging from the iron baker's rack on my front porch, and a third languished in Mrs. W's classroom. Winter came and went. Spring arrived, but the butterflies still didn't wake up. Summer came and I more or less forgot about them.

Fast forward to last week. While pet-sitting for my neighbor, I spied my little bug-tent in a corner of her yard. Time and the elements had been hard on the tent, but the chrysalis was still there, still unhatched. I brought it home, and hung the tent from my baker's rack, pinning the little door open in case by some miracle the butterfly should emerge. I noticed that the chrysalis attached to my baker's rack was still there too. I wondered if I should research how long these things can actually take. I wondered if they were dead inside.

So yesterday, as I was giving my front porch zoo of stick insects and mantids some spritzes of water, I impulsively squirted the little green chrysalis, and it flinched! No, wait. Did it really move, or was it just the water pushing against it? I sprayed the other chrysalis hanging on the wrought iron. It flinched too! Almost one year later, they are still alive.

I wonder if they will ever emerge?

UPDATE:
I contacted Berkeley's Anise Swallowtails.
Our correspondence went like this:

Me: Hello. I’m returning to your website (first found it a couple of years ago), with a question: Is it possible that an anise swallowtail might still emerge from a chrysalis after nearly a year? I have one that I had given to a neighbor early last October, but it never eclosed for her. After spending time in her daughter’s bedroom, the garage, and then their back patio, the little butterfly pavilion with the chrysalis inside has now come back to me. I hung it on my sheltered front porch, with the door pinned open in case it emerges when nobody’s home. It looks much the same as it did last year, but what really makes me wonder is that when I mist it with water, it “flinches”, as if the creature inside is reacting to the spray. Have you ever heard of a metamorphosis taking so long? Cindy

Them: Hi Cindy, yes, even more than a year (but not much more)! And the flinching is a *very* good sign--the critter is still alive and kicking (or flinching, in this case). Just put it somewhere warm and bright and it will likely emerge soon.
The only way I have found to tell if a crysalis is dead is to carefully detach it from whatever it is moored to, then pick it up and feel its weight---if it is much (obviously) lighter than a fresh one, it means it has dried up, and that means "died".
David


And...Mrs. W. has informed me that she still has her chrysalis, and she tried giving it a spritz and it flinched too! So hopefully they will emerge soon. I hope this heat we've been having doesn't do them in.

Final update, Oct. 31, 2007: Defective butterfly
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