Opsiphanes...wha????

Discussion in 'Member's Gallery' started by vitrsna, Jun 2, 2015.

  1. vitrsna

    vitrsna Seedling

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    Talking about surprises in the garden, it seems like every day there is something that takes me by surprise. A couple of years ago, i had been working in the garden and getting ready to wrap things up when i spotted this critter on a wall at the opposite end of the garden. "Well, well, well" i thought, "and who are you?" As i approached, this is what i found. I had never seen a caterpillar quite like this one. It was about 3" (7.5cm) long, vibrant green with an orange racing stripe down its back, and the most remarkable design.
    Opsiphanes 1a.jpg
    It would crawl a little bit up the wall and then fall down. I didn't know what plant it had come from or anything else about it, but i had the suspicion that it was getting ready to pupate because it was having a hard time sticking to the wall. The closest plant was an Areca Palm (Dypsis lutescens) and I thought this stranger had perhaps grown up there. I put it on the Areca Palm which it accepted without hesitation and started eating a leaf. Okay, first question answered: The Areca was the host plant. I dearly wanted an ID for this unique (to my experience) caterpillar. I did some research, sent a photo to bug expert, and we narrowed the ID down to 2 possibilities: Opsiphanes tamarindi (Heliconia Owlet) or Opsiphanes boisduvalii (Orange Owlet). I did not find photos online of an O. tamarindi caterpillar and the photos of the O. boisduvalii did not show the racing stripe. I asked my bug expert friend what i should do to discover exactly which Opsiphanes it was. His answer was "raise him up and see what he looks like as a butterfly". So i did. I thought he could pupate on the Areca Palm and so i left him there, checking in on him a few times a day. Here it is as a pupa on the Palm. You can see it is stuck to the palm frond stem, head down, at the rear end (up) with the little white ball of silk and spit.
    Opsiphanes 2a.jpg
    One day, i was checking on the pupa and saw a small parasitic wasp attached to its hind end. I tried to brush the wasp off, but it was already stuck there, I pinched it off with my fingernails (I don't know how I managed to do this without injuring the pupa), noticed other small parasitic wasps waiting their turn, ran into the house for a cutting tool, ran back outside and cut the entire stem and frond (with the pupa stuck firmly to it), and ran into the house with the large caterpillar flailing wildly about. I cut off the frond and left enough of the stem so the caterpillar could make a chrysalis. It took awhile for the caterpillar to calm down. In the morning this is what a found...
    Opsiphanes 3a.jpg
    You can see on the top that the chrysalis is not yet closed and that the last of the final shed skin is still partially attached. Soon the top will close and the final shed skin will fall off. I was pleased to see that the chrysalis had formed normally but still worried that parasites may have been injected into the caterpillar and understood the possibility that a butterfly may not emerge, ever. After 15 days, i awoke to find this:
    Opsiphanes 4a.jpg
    One glorious and healthy Orange Owlet butterfly holding on to the empty chrysalis. I took him out to the patio so he would be free to go whenever he was ready. This butterfly does not eat nectar, but feeds on ripe fruits, and other things not so pleasant. I had prepared a plate of cut orange and ripe banana that i took out so he would have something to eat if he chose. Not the most colorful or glamorous of butterflies, but absolutely stunning in his own way. A happy ending for the butterfly, for me, and flapdoodle, and moonhowl. People say butterflies need to eat right away but that has not been my observation, especially with the larger ones. The most important thing is to get the wings flight ready (as this one is doing) and the second most important thing is to find a mate...then they will eat.
     
  2. eileen

    eileen Resident Taxonomist Staff Member Moderator Plants Contributor

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    Thank goodness you got rid of the parasitic wasp before it did any damage!! I love seeing your photographs and hearing all about the wildlife in your garden. Never having seen an Orange Owlet butterfly before made your topic even more intriguing. Thank you.
     
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  3. Cayuga Morning

    Cayuga Morning Strong Ash Plants Contributor

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    I agree with Eileen....your butterfly stories are fascinating. I have never before heard of "raising up" a butterfly or saving one from a parasitic wasp! Thanks for your posting.
     
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  4. cherylad

    cherylad Countess of Cute-ification Plants Contributor

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    Glad you were paying attention and saved it. I think it's beautiful!
     
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  5. toni

    toni Mistress of Garden Junque Staff Member Moderator Plants Contributor

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    He/she is a gorgeous creature, so very glad you were able to save and protect it through the change.
     
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  6. Donna S

    Donna S Hardy Maple

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    Thanks for sharing your story and pic's. I really enjoyed all.
     
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  7. gardenelf

    gardenelf In Flower

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    In the words of one very well known Star-Trek character: fascinating! Fantastic illustration of the journey from caterpillar to butterfly, with great pictures. Thank you for saving this little guy from the parasites, and of course thank you for sharing! :stew1:
     
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  8. vitrsna

    vitrsna Seedling

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    Thank you all for your comments, they are very much appreciated. When i started a butterfly garden, i had in mind to, in some small way, create habitat lost due to construction and use of all the pesticides, herbicides, insecticides, etc. Sure we need wasps too, but in our goofy, unthinking human way, we have upset the balance of nature as to endanger some of our species. This is one small example, too many wasps and too few butterflies. I hadn't counted on having to pick parasitic wasps off butterfly pupa, but i sure wasn't going to stand there and allow this to happen. I think this is one way gardeners are different from other people, because every day we are faced with the circle of life up close and personal and we come to care about things that people who do not garden would never even notice.:)
     
  9. Frank

    Frank GardenStew Founder Staff Member Administrator

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    GardenElf stole the words right out of my mouth. The word for your post Bev is fascinating, definitely! Thank you for saving the pupa in its hour of need. It thanked you by putting on a wonderful display for all to enjoy. It has such interesting markings.
    I like the racing stripe on the caterpillar!
     
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  10. 2ofus

    2ofus Hardy Maple

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    Fascinating is the perfect word for your information and photos! I'm glad you were able to save.
     
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  11. Mônica Piovesan

    Mônica Piovesan New Seed

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    Hi!! This is a Opsiphanes boisduvallii :) I'm studying the genus Opsiphanes in my PhD at UFPR-Brazil and I really enjoy your records!! In fact, there are a little information about the immature stages of this species.. I would like to use some of these images in my research, I will put the source/credits, is it possible?
     

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