Summer is the perfect time to spot butterflies. Many caterpillars have been waiting a long time, some all winter, to form into chrysalises and hatch into winged beauties. Even if you don’t have a garden, you should be able to spot butterflies flitting about, even in very urban areas.
The butterfly life cycle is a wondrous and magical thing. Sometimes I try and explain magic as seeing wonder in everyday things, and butterflies (and moths) are a prime example of that. They start out life as a tiny little egg, often laid individually or in little clusters, carefully positioned on plant that the caterpillars will love to eat.
Plant and caterpillar matches include:
- Orange tip butterfly caterpillars eat garlic mustard (Jack by the hedge)
- Comma and peacock butterfly caterpillars eat nettles
- Large white butterfly caterpillars eat cabbages and other brassicas and are the bane of many gardeners!
- Speckled wood butterfly caterpillars eat grasses like Yorkshire fog and cock’s foot
- Norfolk natives might be lucky enough to spot a swallowtail butterfly, whose caterpillars eat the local milk parsely
Once the caterpillar has eaten plenty, it moults its skin and grows. That means that sometimes caterpillars of the same species can look very different depending how far along in their life cycle they are. Once the caterpillar is fully grown, it starts to pupate. This means it forms a chrysalis around itself, a safe shell where it can rest and begin the process of transformation.
The caterpillar loses its original form completely, liquifying then reforming as a winged insect: the butterfly. Many people see the butterfly as a symbol of personal transformation. After all, sometimes you have to completely let go of things in your life in order to progress or grow. The butterfly can also be a symbol of physical transformation or spiritual growth.
Butterflies need water and food to survive. You can help butterflies out by planting flowers that they love to drink the nectar from. Buddleia, for example, attracts many butterflies including the dramatically coloured peacock butterfly. Leave a shallow dish of water outside or fill a birdbath. This will benefit many creatures including passing butterflies.
Find out more at the Woodland Trust, check out the Wild About Gardens guide to growing a butterfly garden, or get out in your garden or on a safe walk and keep an eye out for caterpillars and butterflies in your area.
By Mabh Savage
Image copyright Mabh Savage