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With love and passion, everyone can have a nice garden...Elaine Yim

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..... Author unknown.

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Sunday, April 22, 2012

Rearing and Breeding Lime Butterflies in the Home Garden in Malaysia

1. Adult Lime Butterfly

When I visited Penang Butterfly Farm some time ago, it was just for some hurried sightseeing and outdoor photography. However, I was quite amazed by the many species of beautiful, colourful native butterflies of my country, Malaysia. I have in fact learnt more about butterfly conservation, the nectar plants and host plants. There were  live specimens of butterflies at every stage of their life cycle. I see so many butterflies; some were perched on gorgeous flowers drinking nectar while others were romancing in mid-flight. I could observe butterflies mating and ovipositing but the most unforgetable experience was watching the adult butterflies emerging from their chrysalis right before my very eyes. The process of metamorphosis is very intriguing indeed. From a caterpillar buster, I have now become a NANNY to them, rearing, feeding and raising these creepy crawlies so that they can safely become the butterflies they are meant to be.

Here's how I do it in my home garden, the DIY way.....




2. Lime butterfly eggs
The Chequered Swallowtail or Common Lime Butterfly (Papilio demoleus malayanus) is a common butterfly that visits many of our home gardens in Malaysia. The adult lime butterfly usually lays its eggs on the top of the leaves of a host plant, one egg on a single leaf. The host plants are citrus plants in the Rutaceae family such as the lime, lemon, pomelo, calamansi, kaffir lime, kumquat, citron and the curry leaf plant (Murraya koenigii).

“Rearing and breeding lime butterflies in the home garden in Malaysia”, a copyrighted post, was written for My Nice Garden blog by Autumn Belle @ http://www.mynicegarden.com/ on April 22nd, 2012.

3. Caterpillar
I buy citrus lime trees during Chinese New Year and after the festive season is over, I didn't throw away the trees, so now I have 5 calamondin limes (Citrofortunella microcarpa). I also have a pomelo (Citrus maxima), a kaffir lime (Citrus × hystrix, Rutaceae) and a curry leaf plant (Murraya koenigii).

We can easily spot a caterpillar by their droppings on the leaves. Caterpillar poop is called "frass".

I notice that if I leave the caterpillars alone to fend for themselves in the open, they will soon disappear without a trace, perhaps eaten by their predators. I wanted to provide them with a safe home to feed, grow up and mature into adult butterflies. So I decided to try rearing them.

I read about the Life Cycle of Lime Butterflies. A good site is Butterflies of Singapore.

4. Butterfly House

I use an insect container purchased from Daisho as a butterfly house. I bought this container for RM 5.

You can also recycle an old aquarium, jar or laundry basket. It should have a lid or netting with holes large enough for ventilation but small enough to prevent the caterpillar/butterfly from escaping.

5. Caterpillars at different instars

I like to wait for the eggs to hatch on the leaves before harvesting the caterpillars. I will pluck away the whole leaf or branch with the caterpillar on it. As I still have not overcome the fear of touching these creepy crawlies, I'm so glad that I don't have to touch the caterpillars during the whole process.

Note: Even if you are brave enough to touch them, please DO NOT pull the caterpillar out from the leaf as this will provoke/frighten it to go on the defensive and cling hard to the leaf surface hence doing so may injure the caterpillar.

The life cycle of the lime butterfly consists of 4 stages - egg, larvae, pupa and adult.

It takes 2 to 3 days for the eggs to hatch. The eggshell and its contents are the first meal of the caterpillar. The caterpillar will go through 5 stages of development or instars. During each instar it will molt and shed its skin. From 1st to 4th instar, the caterpillar looks like bird droppings on the leaves, with a spiky appearance and dark brown in colour. There are white markings on the body. Each instar lasts about 2 to 3 days. At the 5th and final instar, the body changes to pale green. This is a time of rapid growth in body sized. It will continue to eat hungrily for 3 to 4 more days before it turns into a pupa.

6. 
When disturbed, the caterpillar will point out this feeler-like structure called the "osmeterium", turning into a monster to scar away predators.

I feed the caterpillars daily with fresh leaves from the host plant. They don't eat dried leaves. It is crucial that they are well fed. Make sure the fresh leaves do not contain tiny bugs or ants.

Do not place a dish of water in the butterfly house, otherwise the caterpillars could drown. They can get their supply of moisture from the leaves. Caterpillars eat a lot and hence they poo a lot. It is necessary to clean the container regularly to remove the poop and shed skin.

7. Pupa
This caterpillar has stopped eating and has attached itself to the underside of some leaves. It will shed its skin for the last time and turn into a pupa soon.

8. Pupa stage
When caterpillar starts to scale up the wall of the container and lodge itself near the top of the lid, it is time to pupate.

For lime butterflies, the pupa/chrysalis can be green or brown in colour. This is the easiest stage because you don't have to feed it anymore. Keep the butterfly house in a safe place away from mischievous pets. The pupa inside the container will be protected from predators.

The next thing to do is to count the days so you'll roughly know when the pupae will eclose.

9.
After 9 to 10 days, the pupae turns dark - actually it has turned transparent and by now you can see the patterns of the butterfly's wings. The butterfly will emerge very soon, usually within 24 hours.

10.
Do not release a newly emerged butterfly yet. Wait about one and a half hours for it to fully dry its wings.

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When the butterfly is rapidly flapping its wings and making numerous attempts to fly out, it is time to release it back to Mother Nature.

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This is a wonderful feeling! A butterfly in my arms, so close by...
Make a wish and whisper it to the butterfly. It may just come true!

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Here's what's left of the empty chrysalis (on the right).

My article in the New Straits Times titled, "Nanny to Butterfly Babies" was published on March 31st, the day of Earth Hour 2012. It would be great if more people are encouraged to breed and save butterflies.

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A reader, Seek SK, has posted pictures of her success in being a nanny to the butterfly babies. She found 2 caterpillars from her citrus lime tree. She didn't have a box to keep them, so she used a plastic table mat as the base and covered it with a plastic tray. Wow, what a brilliant idea!

Her ablum titled, "A lime butterfly has finally emerged", is on her Facebook here.

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One of Seet's caterpillars has already matured into an adult butterfly. Another is on the way.

Seet, thank you very much for letting me know about the good news!
Glad to know you. Great to know that we have encouraged each other in raising live butterfly babies to release them back to the environment. Since I started this year, I have already reared and released 5 live butterflies.

To my blog readers in Malaysia and Singapore:
For those of us who buy lime trees during Chinese New Year - buy a good tree. After the season is over, do not throw away the tree even if you do not want to eat the fruits for fear of heavy application of pesticides prior to purchase. You can recycle the tree as food plant for the Common Lime, Common Mormon and Great Mormon butterflies. You may decide not to rear the caterpillars in captivity but let nature take its course. Don't worry about the bald/ugly looking tree if you can bear with it for some time. The tree is a survival. It won't die but will spring back to life with new shoots, new blooms and fruits. I think all my citrus trees became "fitter" after the process.

If you wish to read more about our butterflies, you can get "A Field Guide to the Butterflies of Singapore" by Khew Sin Khoon. This book is fully illustrated with many well-taken, colourful photographs of the butterflies that we are familiar with. The book is currently  not available in Malaysia but can be purchased online from NHBS here.

HAPPY EARTH DAY 2012 !
 
Google's logo is themed Earth Day today - just click on their logo and you will be directed to the Earth Day 2012 network site. You can make your pledge towards A Billion Acts of Green here. At the time of writing this post, the count is at 997,886,277.

42 comments:

  1. Great catalog of your butterfly babies. It's interesting to watch the stages.

    Cher Sunray Gardens

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Cher, what I used to regard as creepy creatures are now my butterfly babies!

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  2. They are lovely to watch, especially when they pupate or when you agitate them and the osmeterium shoots out releasing the 'foul gas'. When I was young, my parents allowed me to keep then in large Nescafe bottles with improvised perforated lid. The downside - got to take them out, dump the feces and put them back every now and then. I usually get the Common Mormon on the lime tree and once from a pomelo tree, a Great Mormon (blue..must be the typical agenor male).

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    1. Sean, yeah, it was quite fun watching the caterpillar flashing their thingy when most of the time they are busy eating. At least they notice our existence, hehe. About cleaning the container, I just have to open the lid, turn the container upside down and empty the contents out. The cat will usually stick to the sides of container. The recycled Nescafe bottle is a great idea! And wow, I do envy you. I haven't bred any Common Mormon or Great Mormon yet although they visit my garden occassionally.

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    2. I like your container, much easier to handle. With the bottle, sometimes you set them down outside on a sprig, and they wander off. I am the one who is envious of you. Always hoping that the next caterpillar would be a lime butterfly, but no, I would just get another Common Mormon.

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  3. Dzięki Twojemu wspaniałemu pomysłowi jest więcej motyli. Cudownie też patrzeć na ich rozwój od jajeczka do ślicznego motyla. Pozdrawiam.
    Thanks to your wonderful idea is more butterflies. Wonderful also look at their development from egg to the lovely butterfly. Yours.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Giga, I find with this method, the plant will look less bald. The cats do not need many leaves. Because I pluck the leaves myself, they don't get to chomp here, chomp there and everywhere leaving many leaves with cut edges.

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  4. Omigosh! So pretty and very well fed cats they are. Happy Earth Day, Autumn Belle! ^.^

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    Replies
    1. Sharon, Happy Earth Day 2012 to you too!

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  5. I am so jealous of all the fun you are having raising those beautiful butterflies! I have all those plants; lime, lemon, pomelo, calamansi, kaffir lime, kumquat, citron and the curry leaf plant (Murraya koenigii) but no caterpillars or butterflies :( Different butterflies and host plants in different countries.

    My garden is an ecosystem for all kinds of insects, birds and animals but only a few butterflies visit. Sometimes, if I am lucky a few Monarch butterflies fly past on their way south. When my children were little we raise Painted Ladies butterflies like you are doing, and also silk worms, which was part of a school project. As soon as life slows down, I want to raise those beauties again. You are an inspiration.

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    Replies
    1. Mom on Blog, after seeing your productive lemon tree, I'd like a lemon tree in my garden too! I wonder if the Monarch Butterfly visit your garden there?

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  6. Almost same butterflies with ones you introduce can be seen in Japan. Is your butterfly is a kind of a swallowtail butterfly?
    It's early to see a swallowtail butterfly in Japan but cabbage butterflies, which are a big enemy of vegetable gardeners, are seen now.

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    Replies
    1. Takaeko, yes, this is a swallowtail butterfly but without the 'tail'. I can imagine the horror of seeing cabbage butterflies for vegetable growers. In Malaysia, the lime butterfly is also a pest in citrus tree plantations. However, the lime butterfly is clever to avoid these places, so they visit home gardens in the cities instead!

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  7. I had many lime butterfly caterpillars which I had reared and it was a joy to release all of them when they take their maiden flight.
    Great feeling isn't it?

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    Replies
    1. James, oh yes! I remember your butterfly rearing as mentioned in your blog. In fact, your experiences was an inspiration too. It gives me the confidence that we can DIY at home.

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  8. Happy Earth Day, Autumn Belle! Thank you for the rare glimpse of the life cycle of the Lime Butterfly. You are so knowledgeable about insects and their interactions with plants. Great post!

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    1. Beth, thank you very much for the words of encouragement. My knowledge about the insect kingdom is not much but it spurred on by my fascination with nature and my wish to make my garden friendly to wildlife and the environment.

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  9. I love your butterly projects, and i love how those larvae at three stages were kept in one photo for comparison. If only i can stay in the farm for 2 weeks, this is something i've long been wanting to do. But my wish is a butterfly dome where they are released and the flowers are at the bottom where they can feed on. I am also glad that in your case the larvae can climb those smooth surfaces of the plastic container.

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    Replies
    1. Andrea, a farm will be a suitable home for these butterflies to breed naturally. I really enjoy your account of your days spent in your family home.

      The butterfly dome you mention above reminds me of the Butterfly Garden in Singapore HortPark that Mr Khew Sin Khoon (Butterflies Circle Blog and author of A Field Guild to the Butterflies of Singapore book) helped to build.

      The larvae can climb up to the top of my plastic container. On my lime tree, it can even take a dive and manoeuvre by spinning silk.

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  10. Wonderful project or rearing caterpilars!
    I never rear one but I have a lot fo caterpillars in my garden! ;)

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    Replies
    1. If you grow a lot of vegetables in your garden, the caterpillars will be the last thing you wanna see.

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  11. Wow! What a beautiful post. You are so inspiring with each of your post. I have many butterflies visit my garden everyday. It's been very sunny since few days and the butterflies have declined. Hopefully as it will rain, they will be back. We were fortunate to see a caterpillar grow into a butterfly and sit on the flowers and fly around early this year. Now I will wait to see that happen more...

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    1. Monica, butterflies in your garden is a good sign and they will return to your garden when the nectar plants are blooming with flowers and host plants growing new shoots. Butterflies are attracted to beautiful flowers for food while human beings are inspired by the beauty of the butterflies and the flowers.

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  12. Beautiful captures. Such wonderful butterflies. Thanks for this informative post.

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    1. Chris, I think of your gorgeous roses whenever you visit my blog. Come to think of it, I have seen bees on roses but I haven't seen butterflies feeding on my roses. Roses don't produce nectar anyway.

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  13. Truly Amazing, i must say i never saw someone working so deep. i've lime plants in my backyard and i do see butterflies hanging around but never tried something like that.

    ~Aansy Stone

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  14. What a super informative post!! :) Now I know what I can do with the "hated pest" on my Desert Roses....*shakes head*...why didn't I thought of this earlier? Thanks a lot AB!! Now, to hunt for suitable materials for a 'caterpillar house'..

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    1. Tanntoot, for people who do not want caterpillars and also do not want to use chemical pesticides on their plants, they can pick them eg. with fingers, cutting off the leaf/branch and dispose them off. If my Desert Roses are attacked, I will not just shake my head but a dagger will pierce my heart as these plants have so little leaves. Desert Rose is a host plant for the Oleander Hawk Moth, which is quite beautiful. It is the same type that feed on periwinkle plants. They can make the whole vinca plant bald. Some vinca plants, especially those hybrids like red, pink, deep pink may not be able to survive the attack. The most hardy vinca is the purple one that grows wild (like a perennial) by the roadside. I have one in my garden as food plants for these moths. I haven't tried rearing these moths yet but the caterpillars never made it to adulthood (maybe eaten by predators) as I have never seen the chrysalis nor the adult moth in my garden now. Vinca plants have more leaves than Desert Rose.

      For the citrus lime trees, I find that the caterpillars didn't go on a walkabout and chomp off a section of the leaves, some here, some there and everywhere. My plants still looks good with lots of leaves. I have raised 5 butterflies and into my no. 6-8th butterfly.

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  15. How amazing! You are doing such a wonderful job. These are beautiful butterflies. All of your work is well worth it.

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    1. Sage Butterfly, yes! The lime butterflies are very colourful indeed with the upperside different in colour scheme from the undersides, how wonderful. These butterflies are not welcome in orchards here.

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  16. happy 'belated' earth day. this is a very good tutorial. its wonderful Im thinking of breeding my own as my next project.lol :p

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    1. Herny, thanks! When you try breeding lime butterflies from limau kasturi plant, at the same time, it can be an enjoyable learning experience for kids.

      I do hope that teachers will do this in school projects too.

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  17. Yes, I do hope some teachers will do this project either as a class lesson or as a science society project. In schools, most teachers only concentrate to finish the syllabus and thus make the lesson quite boring. The students will be able to grasp the concept better if they can carry out the experiment/project themselves rather than the teacher just chalk and talk.

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    1. SK Seet, this little project can be carried out from Kindergarten stage. Last year, BBC reported that Sir Richard Attenborough is encouraging the British public to help in butterfly conservation as their species are fast declining. Penang Butterfly Farm is doing a great job promoting the same course. Khew Sin Khoon has written a very useful book, "A Field Guide to the Butterflies of Singapore" which contains colourful illustrations of butterflies that we are familiar with.

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  18. If the pupa breaks on day one, will a butterfly still form? I am a teacher who has looked after a catepillar with my class... It turned into a pupa last night but was on the floor rather than attached to the branch, this morning we looked at it through the glass and notices a crack where it had fallen from the branch.

    I hope he is ok :(

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  19. I am a teacher in Brunei who has been looking after one of these catepillars with my class. It turned into a pupa last night but has fallen and broken it's 'shell'
    Will he be ok? :(

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    1. Dear Sally, I'm not sure about this but from my own experience, sometimes a perfectly formed chrysalis also may not eclose for reasons unknown to me. Since yours is broken, the chances are not so good. A lime butterfly should eclose after about 10 days after formation of pupa. If the time lapse is more than 15 days, chances are not good. Nevertheless, I'll keep my fingers crossed and hope for the best for you. Good Luck!

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  20. wow...very interesting article, i really love it!!!

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  21. Can the caterpillar born on a calamansi plant eat lime leaves??

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    Replies
    1. Yes, the calamansi plant is a hostplant for lime butterflies. It loves to eat the leaf shoots.

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  22. Hi Autumn Belle! Nice writing! I want to get the confirmation about the colour of the spot. Is it cream or yellow spot? As i have read on the journal, its stated cream spot. Im getting confuse. Help me :(

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    1. Fatin, do you mean the spots on the butterfly wings? Well, they are yellowish white to my eyes. By definition, "cream" colour means off-white, white with a tinge of yellow or even pale yellow. :)

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