Metamorphosis

At the end of last summer, the caterpillars of the large white butterfly (Pieris brassicae or cabbage white) left their food plants in the garden and went marching en masse. Most of them marched right out of the garden: they climbed sheds, walls and fences, seemingly knowing where they were heading. But one of them choose to stop and pupate in a stone outhouse where I keep ladders and various bits and bobs.

Throughout the winter, I’ve been careful not to knock the chrysalis off. And for the last few weeks I’ve been watching for “it” to happen: for the butterfly to emerge. Today was the day.

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This was the pupa on 12th May: it was starting to change colour and plump up
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This was first thing this morning (19th May). The wings are clearly visible, squished up against the side and the whole thing looked fit to burst – which it was!
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Here it is, freshly emerged – the empty case that the butterfly crawled out from is towards the bottom, just left of centre

I know it is “just” a cabbage white, and something of a pest, but I am awestruck by the complexities of nature and very happy that this one survived the winter 🙂

 

Peacock butterfly caterpillar

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Peacock butterfly caterpillar – this one has wandered away from the defoliated nettle it was living on. Its orange feet (prolegs) mean it is quite “grown up”, for a peacock caterpillar.

The shiny, spikey black caterpillars of peacock butterflies feed on nettles.

We’ve fallen out of love with nettles – probably because they sting! – but they used to be more widely valued: as a vegetable, a medicinal herb and for making a (rather nice) textile. They’re a good plant for recycling nutrients and are rich in nitrogen, making them a valuable addition to the compost heap. And, of course, they’re good for wildlife.

Perennial nettles do spread easily, but they’re also easily pulled up, especially if you mulch around them. So, if you have the space, they’re a worthwhile addition to any wildlife garden area.