Last May I looked for an egg, a very small egg, belonging to one of my favourite butterflies, the orange tip. It seemed a bit like trying to find a needle in a haystack, but I had been given very specific instructions.
‘Find a group of garlic mustard plants then go to one that is slightly separate, look at the flower head and examine the individual stems.’
To my amazement I found a solitary egg on the first plant I checked (beginners luck! I haven’t found one so easily since). Orange tip butterflies lay their eggs singly as their caterpillars are cannibalistic.
I was with my daughter, and she was less than impressed when I picked the whole plant and carried it home to see if I could raise a butterfly. Apparently it just wasn’t ‘done’! I don’t think she expected me to succeed and to be honest I didn’t either, it was just one egg.
I put the plant into a vase on the kitchen windowsill and within a day or two the egg hatched. The caterpillar was very well camouflaged, it looked just like the seed pod it was eating. As the seed pods grew the caterpillar did too, munching down from the top, and moving from one to another as it consumed them. From then on I started looking for garlic mustard plants with missing seed pods, and became quite good at spotting caterpillars.
Eventually my caterpillar formed a ‘C’ shape on it’s food plant, and spun a thin silk girdle around its body, a sign that it was about to pupate.
The chrysalis was as well camouflaged as the caterpillar. I knew that if a butterfly did emerge it wouldn’t be until the following spring, so I left it in a well ventilated container in an unheated outhouse and waited.
At the end of April I moved the container to a sheltered part of the garden so it was in more natural conditions. Last night, as the light was fading, I packed up my gardening things and stopped to have a look. This is what I found…
A perfect female orange tip butterfly.