Xena: Warrior Butterfly

This has been an interesting time… the pandemic has kept us mostly at home… so instead of doing what I normally do during the summer months (travelling across the county to present henna programs to local libraries), I have been in the backyard, watching birds, bees and butterflies.

We planted wildflowers to encourage the butterflies and were thrilled to see our first Monarch caterpillars in the spring…but we didn’t see any butterflies…

Some sleuthing online brought the dangers caterpillars face to light…birds, lizards, beetles, parasites… so, we decided to rescue some caterpillars and raise them indoors to increase their chances of making it to adulthood.

We found a very tiny caterpillar and put it in a container with a clean paper towel and some washed leaves and watched it grow. (We washed the leaves with a 5% bleach solution to kill any fungus, bacteria or other parasites, as recommended by many Monarch rearing information sites)

And the little caterpillar ate… and grew….

a very small monarch caterpillar
an even bigger caterpillar

And ate and ate…we were glad we had lots of milkweed…and even went to the Nursery to buy more! And then one day, we woke up and there  wasn’t a caterpillar in the container…but a beautiful celadon chrysalis!

Then we waited for 2 weeks….

And saw the chrysalis grow transparent.  We knew our baby was getting ready to emerge (or “eclose” in technical butterfly language)

butterfly with damaged wing
the parasite

Something was attached to her wing and had caused it to be deformed…. My husband prodded it with a toothpick and this larval-looking thing fell off!

It looked just like a tachinid fly larvae….we had experienced them bursting from newly pupated chrysalises like horrible aliens… could this little butterfly have killed the larvae while in the chrysalis?  No one knows.  No one is actually sure what it is.  We took Xena (I named her after the Warrior Princess) to a local expert on tachinid flies who is not sure whether or not this was a larvae or a genetic abnormality.  The thing that fell off dried up very quickly and did not yield its identity when it was observed under a microscope the next day.

butterfly on milkweed
Xena could not fly, but jumped onto the milkweed plant and started to sip nectar. She had a very strong will to live.
I created a color sketch from the photograph.
Underpainting of a butterfly
I glued down tourist information from Lemon Grove and San Diego along with local foreign language newsprint, yellow pages advertisements, stamps and other found paper.
progress on collage painting of butterfly
I decided to embroider the leaves of painted paper to give extra texture. I used to do a lot of embroidery when I was a teen, and it was fun to pick it back up for a different purpose.
the finished butterfly painting
The final painting! 11 x 14in. You can find prints available in the Fine Art Store

If you are interested in raising Monarch butterflies yourself, check out Mr Lund Science on YouTube for lots of information and pointers. There are also groups on Facebook with excellent information and community. I belong to the San Diego CA Monarch Butterfly Group on Facebook…I am sure there are lots of other excellent groups as well.


It is now January 29, 2021.  more than 3 months after Xena eclosed and according to Rob, she is still hanging in!  Considering that the average butterfly only lives 2-3 weeks, this is incredible!  Rob believes she was a migrator, since they they live through hibernation — about 4 months.

In Rob’s words:“Natasha and I met, and she transferred the butterfly she had named “Xena: The Warrior Monarch Butterfly” into my care. I have since determined that what looked like a tachinid fly larva was actually the rolled up, unformed wing that became detached either in the chrysalis, or when she eclosed. Why she was born without that 4th wing is still a mystery, but as she tested negative for OE, and was in otherwise good health (except for the fact that she was unable to fly, and one of her legs is crippled), I decided to keep her for study.

At any rate, Xena is still kicking, 11 weeks later (on New Year’s Eve). Her wings are battered, and they have lost all color, but she seems content. She generally feeds herself from a cap full of honey water, although sometimes she needs help, and lets me know when I walk into the room, by turning to face me and “shivering” her wings. I pick her up and put her against her nectar cap, and when she’s done, she usually climbs back up to the top of her cage to roost.”

It is now January 29th and Xena continues to hold steady.

She could now be called Xena: Miracle Butterfly!

Update: Xena slipped away in the morning of February 3, 2021.  She had lived as a butterfly since October 18, 2020.  She touched the lives of all who met her and deepened my love of and commitment to saving the Monarch butterfly.

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