Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Butterflies accidentally poison themselves and die! Do we do the same thing?

Long-tailed Skipper butterfly eggs (Urbanus proteus)

Butterfly caterpillars can only eat specific plants and each species of butterfly has it own specific plant or family of plants they can eat. For example; Monarch caterpillars can eat only milkweed. Cloudless Sulphur caterpillars eat Cassia (Senna) plants. A female butterfly instinctively knows upon which host plants to lay their eggs.

But sometimes “Mom” butterflies get a bit confused!

Long-tailed Skipper butterfly caterpillars are a favorite of our grandchildren. The caterpillars cut leaves and fold these leaves over themselves to make a home. Like Hansel and Gretel, they often eventually eat the walls of their ‘home’.

Blue Pea Vine (Clitoria ternatea) blue purple flower, host plant for Long-tailed skipper butterfly caterpillars

Blue Pea Vine is a favorite of Long-tailed Skippers. It isn’t unusual to see stacks, clumps, or towers of eggs on the tender growth of this vine. The caterpillars hatch, start cutting and folding leaves, grow, a few weeks later pupate into a chrysalis, and a week or two later emerge as an adult butterfly.

Wooly pipevine (Asclepias tomentosa) is a host plant for Pipevine Swallowtails. Long-tailed Skipper females will often lay eggs upon Wooly Pipevine although it is deadly to their caterpillars. The caterpillars hatch, start eating this pipevine, and die.

I was surprised and asked Dr. Thomas Emmel, of the University of Florida, about Long-tailed Skippers eating pipevine. He said it has been noted that in some instances, Long-tailed Skippers will lay their eggs on Wooly Pipevine.

Once small caterpillars have eaten the proper host plant, they will not eat host plants that poison them. Sadly, because the eggs were laid on their the wrong plant, they started eating the wrong food and it killed them.

Watching these caterpillars reminds me of the things we wish we had taught our children when they were growing up, such as financial responsibility! If we had taught them young, most likely they would have held to their early teaching and avoided other 'food' (bad spending habits) that could be detrimental to them. But we didn't show as much financial responsibility as we should have and more is learned by example than by words. Hey, when things were looking bad financially, we always consoled ourselves by eating out (with five children) which only added to the problem.

So many bad habits (and even habits that are deadly to children) are taught by parents. I'm thankful for the good habits my parents taught me and for a Christian upbringing. I learned from my parents to feed on the right 'food' and avoid 'poisons'. Not that I didn't mess up from time to time. But their teaching saved me many heartaches.

What we feed upon is what we grow on! Or what we don't grow on ... when a female butterfly lays eggs on or near the right plant, the caterpillars will eat the right food. As parents, we humans have a great responsibility, just as 'Mom' butterfly has a great responsibility.

Philippians 4:8 "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things."

Proverbs 22:6 "Train [a] a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it."

Ephesians 6:4 "Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord."

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