my life in the land down under

Left over Right…


Many, many years ago 😉 I was a Brownie (junior version of the Girl Guide, also known as Girl Scout). Among other things I learned to tie knots, although the only one I remember well is the reef knot: ‘left over right and under, right over left and under’.

We appear to be running a monarch butterfly nursery here at the moment (see my previous post here for the back story on how this came to be!). This has given me little time to update the blog recently. It has also involved tying lots of knots; I can’t claim they are reef knots, but they do the job anyhow.

We started off with a small stand for rescued chrysalises, last season or maybe the season before. As you can see, it accommodates eight.

First stand

This year we’ve had to upgrade several times.

Second stand – holds 16 chrysalises

Third stand – holds 36 chrysalises

We had a large plastic container that was not being used; John cut a hole in the lid and replaced it with a fine net material to let light and air into the container. We have housed up to 25 caterpillars at one time. The pieces of wooden dowelling were intended as places for them to chrysalis, however the first group seemed to prefer the container lid! The second group have divided themselves about equally between the dowelling and the roof.

Caterpillar container

Caterpillar container from the top

Caterpillar inside container

At last count we had 87 chrysalises and two J’s inside; there are a few more outside that we are letting be. It has been very time-consuming feeding the fat caterpillar babies and keeping the container relatively clean; its a relief when each day a few more successfully change into ‘J’s’ and then chrysalises. A very small minority have not made it for one reason or another – one made its chrysalis on the house wall the other day so has a flat side, another did the same in our big container. We thought there was only a slim chance of a healthy butterfly developing so have euthanised these. One new chrysalis was very close to the edge of the container and sadly got caught in the lid when we were replacing it. 😦 Today we had a caterpillar that started to change into a chrysalis then stopped, and appears to have died. Thankfully, these few are the exception to a large number of apparently perfectly-formed chrysalises.

Our one remaining swan plant outside is now taking a beating – many of the upper leaves have been stripped – but may be able to recover before the next round. We’ve had to release a trapped butterfly on two occasions; it had obviously found it’s way under the net to lay eggs. We’ve also rescued a few fat caterpillars that were at risk of being walked on, as they went marching off at high speed across the concrete to find a place to chrysalis. If they go for the neighboring yucca plant we leave them alone, as it seems a secure place – the leaves are strong and won’t blow around in rough weather. I’m sure there will be a few in other places and some we may never find!

Swan plant – compare foliage with photo in previous post

Rescuing a wandering caterpillar

Caterpillar on yucca plant

Chrysalises on yucca

The good news, that makes it all worth it, is the resulting butterflies. So far we have had two emerge, both males. There are several darkening chrysalises today; it looks as though we will have about four new butterflies tomorrow and more later in the week. It’s warm here at the moment, and they are taking just over two weeks from the time the chrysalis forms.

Chrysalis about to hatch – the rings around the top start to stretch downwards and the shape changes

First butterfly of the season (male)

John releasing first butterfly

First butterfly (male)

Monarch (male) on swan plant

Second butterfly newly emerged, wings still crumpled

Second butterfly (also male) with wings fully pumped up

We have found the nursery chores a bit overwhelming, and John is threatening to pull out the swan plants when the season is over! Meanwhile we feel we’re doing our bit for New Zealand’s monarch population. 🙂


Update (Wednesday morning): We have had two female butterflies emerge so far today. Have to get back to tying chrysalises – only about 30 to do! 🙂



Author: Janice

Married to a very lucky man (he sometimes agrees), I'm learning to be a better wife, homemaker, & step-mum to two adult children and their other halves. I enjoy thinking, writing, nature, travelling, reading, photography and other creative pursuits, and spending time with friends & family (not necessarily in that order). I work part-time with children & their families. I have too much stuff (working on that) and am not a morning person... that about covers it for now.

17 thoughts on “Left over Right…

  1. Great photos, Janice. Awesome work! Well done to you both.

  2. How interesting, and exciting! How time-consuming this must be for you, but so worth the effort. The photographs are wonderful – thanks for this post!

  3. You are doing a great job and love the photos. Maybe you could publish this as a blurb book and give it to the library.

  4. I’m so glad you do this! Aren’t they the most beautiful caterpillars, crysalises (?), and butterflies? I’ve raised a few, but nust one at a time. Used to live on a fly-way, near Lake Erie, US, which was dramatic, but of course they were just passing through in the fall on their way to Mexico.

    • Hi Valerie, yes I think the butterflies are especially beautiful, the caterpillars more dramatic with their stripes. One of my workmates finds them quite creepy. It took me a bit to get used to handling them, we only do it if we need to move them and you have to be so gentle. We don’t have any flowers in our garden to attract them (that’s on my Christmas wish list) so we only see them when they come to lay eggs on the swan plants. It’s special being out in the garden when a couple are flying around you. It must be amazing to live on a fly-way! Do you see many at one time? They don’t migrate here but I think some may go north where it’s warmer, or they congregate in trees to overwinter (our winters are quite mild in the North Is.). We have had a few chrysalises inside other years, but so many this year because of bringing the plant cuttings in – our highest count was 92 at one time. We’ve had a lot of butterflies emerge within the last few days – total 24 so far, 8 today.

  5. Wow, Janice, this is really awesome how you captured this amazing growth! I plan on showing my little girls these pictures and they will absolutely love it! Thanks so much for taking the time to do this. 🙂

    x melissa little

    • Hi Melissa, yes we think its amazing too. There’s something very special about seeing a caterpillar become a chrysalis, then a totally different creature emerges a couple of weeks later – a miraculous transformation. 🙂 We’ve had lots of butterflies emerge within the last few days so I have more photos which I will post at some stage. There are some great resources on the internet, including time lapse photos which show the formation of a chrysalis and I think a butterfly emerging too. If you can’t find them let me know as I may have them bookmarked. Hope your girls enjoy the photos. Give them hugs from us! 🙂

  6. What a great story, and amazing pictures! I love the caterpillar on the finger. How many people get to do that?!!!

    When I taught 4th grade, one year I took a class and received some silk worms. It didn’t seem like so many at the time, they were small. But as they grew, they took over my classroom. We (I) had to gather mulberry leaves, which is all they like, and what started in a little box about the size of yours ended up covering 1/2 of my VERY large classroom. We measured their growth, and caterpillar races (hahaha), and most of all learned how much detritus they produced! What a mess!

    Thanks for sharing this post!

    • Wow, that would have been a huge project! Ours took a lot of time keeping them fed and the containers clean and we only had about 25 at a time. Now we are trying to keep up with the butterflies! It’s very windy here today so not the best for releasing them in the backyard, but when I got up this morning there were two new ones (now four) and we already had eight from yesterday – I’ve put the eight in a sheltered area outside hoping they will fly away soon. 🙂

      • It was huge! We ended up with hundreds, I think. It was overwhelming, but very interesting.

      • Very windy here today too – I won’t release my butterflies until the wind dies down and it’s a bit warmer. They will be safe “doing nothing” in my butterfly house – a greenhouse converted for the purpose – or the indoor ones in their caterpillar castle where they’ve been safe from the wasps.

        Great things these caterpillar castles. You can see one here


      • Thanks Jacqui, the weather did improve here in the afternoon so they’ve all flown. The caterpillar castle is a great idea, we’ll have to look into getting one. We have another dozen butterflies ready to emerge tomorrow!

  7. Pingback: Looking Back / Looking Ahead « jaydogblog

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