The Butterfly Conservatory

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During the pandemic, we became foster parents to butterflies.
They don’t start out as butterflies, mind you. They arrive in a jar as little caterpillars that eventually morph into butterflies. My wife originally bought them for our grand-niece Mimi, thinking it would be a good project for them to observe together.

A Monarch Butterfly, one of the laundry list of insects that Paul DiSclafani would rather not deal with
(Photo by Kenneth Dwain Harrelson /CC BY-SA 2.0)

Of course, six-year-olds don’t have the attention span or the discipline to wait a few weeks for the caterpillars to grow and form a chrysalis (like a cocoon) and finally emerge as butterflies. As such, we took possession of the cage apparatus and decided to take ownership.
If you are a frequent reader of this column, you may know that I am bug-a-phobic. It doesn’t matter how “gentle” the bug is, it’s still a bug to me. I don’t like anything flying around me, landing on me, or, in the case of cave crickets, jumping at me from every direction. It doesn’t matter if it’s trying to bite me, sting me, or just avoid me, we do not get along.

When my son James was little, he had a small lizard that ate live crickets. One day, my wife asked me to pick up a container of the crickets at the pet store. I just assumed the vile creatures came pre-packaged in a Tupperware, like potato salad. Instead, I was led into the back where a 10-gallon fish tank was filled with thousands of the little buggers.
The clerk handed me a folded cardboard container, like you get Chinese Food in with the little metal handle, and told me I could scoop out as many as I wanted.
Was he insane?
I’d rather chew aluminum foil than stick my bare hand into a fish tank filled with live crickets. Not only did I ask him to do it, but I also made him double bag it, so nothing escaped on the ride home. To this day, I still hear a cricket every now and then coming from the back seat of my car.

The butterfly kit came with a white netted cage that can be hung from a ceiling hook. Once the caterpillars have eaten enough, t

hey form a pupa inside the chrysalis. In a few weeks, they hatch into butterflies and are ready to take flight.
To be honest, it was a fascinating process to watch from start to finish. We placed the two sets of caterpillar jars in my home office to keep them out of direct sunlight. They eventually made their way to hang from the lid. Of course, I checked the tops religiously to make sure they were so tight, I would need the Hulk to eventually open them.

When formed, we transferred the chrysalis pods into the much larger netted cage located in another room (thank goodness). Hanging from the top of the cage, they finally began emerging, changing from disgusting hairy caterpillars into beautiful butterflies (depending on your point of view).
Several years ago, I faced my fears on a family vacation to the Canadian side of Niagara Falls. After doing the things the kids and I wanted, my wife requested a visit to the Butterfly Conservatory. Just reading the brochure gave me the willies. There were more than 2,000 butterflies, representing 45 different species, in an enclosed space with a 100 percent chance they would land on your head and body parts as you walk through the exhibit. Sheesh…
Convincing myself I could do this for the sake of my family without having a nervous breakdown, I bravely opened the door and walked in. Everywhere I looked was hundreds of fluttering butterflies, some of them as big as my hand. They were beautifully colored and basically harmless, but they were landing on my head (thank goodness for my Mets hat). I did all I could to stop myself from screaming like a little girl and running out the door like my hair was on fire. I persevered and made it through but checked my blood pressure every 15 minutes so I wouldn’t faint.

Now, our kaleidoscope of butterflies was emerging and fluttering all around the little enclosure. It was frightening and beautiful at the same time. As my wife opened the white netting to let them escape during a backyard ceremony, I had a tear in my eye, watching them make their way into this wonderful world to do whatever it is that butterflies do.

Maybe it was tears of joy in knowing that I no longer must fear them escaping the netting inside the house and landing on my head while I’m sleeping.

Paul DiSclafani, a Massapequa resident, is a 2018 Press Club of Long Island award-winning columnist and an Anton Media Group contributor since 2016.

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