Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Switched On

Switched On: A Memoir of Brain Change and Emotional AwakeningSwitched On: A Memoir of Brain Change and Emotional Awakening by John Elder Robison
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This memoir tells what happened when John Elder Robison bravely volunteered to participate in a 2008 study to see what effects transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) would have on the so-called social deficits that characterize people on the autism spectrum. Mr. Robison was in his forties when he was diagnosed with Asperger's. Although he's a successful inventor, businessman, autism consultant and author, he says he's always felt like an outsider because of his blindness to emotional cues. After one TMS session, the "doors of perception" blew open. He wept tears of joy as he vividly re-experienced a rock concert he had attended decades before. After another session, he felt a soul-to-soul connection with members of an audience during his presentation on autism. Although the intensity of these initial reactions faded in time, as he was told they would, he continues seven years later to be more outgoing and sympathetic to the feelings of others. Not all of the outcomes have been favorable, however. His marriage ended. So did a relationship when Robison finally realized the "friend" had been subtly, and publicly, ridiculing him for years. I read this book because I am interested in how the brain works. especially for someone with autism.  Robison foresees a day when the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) may approve TMS for the treatment of conditions other than depression, the only one it currently approves.

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Butterfly Gals

Butterfly gals, won't you come out tonight,
Come out tonight, come out tonight?
Butterfly gals, won't you come out tonight
And dance by the light of the moon?*

Only three chrysalises left. We hope they'll emerge and fly away before we fly away for a few days.  The one on the glass is starting to darken, but the other two are still bright green. 

*from "Buffalo Gals," American folk tune. 

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Leaving Home

Early Monday morning we found two black chrysalises.
These two would soon break out of their chrysalises.

After emerging, they hung on the wire lid of the terrarium for awhile.
Our information sheet said that the butterflies would be ready to fly after 90 minutes.
When they began opening and closing their wings,
we took the terrarium outside and removed the lid. Seven green chrysalises
remained attached to the lid, undisturbed. The two butterflies soon took off. 

This morning, six more emerged. 
We took the terrarium outside. 

One went to the bottom of the terrarium. It tried to climb 
the glass wall, but couldn't gain traction.
Then it climbed onto a branch inside the terrarium.
Phil moved the branch close to a milkweed.

The butterfly crawled onto a broad milkweed leaf. Like the other five, 
it spent a long time hanging out in the milkweed, opening and shutting its wings
and then resting. This group seemed to be in no hurry to take wing.

A swallowtail dropped by to show the monarchs
how to fly and where to find the choice nectar flowers. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

All Quiet on the Butterfly Front

All eleven of our caterpillars are now in chrysalises.

"One of these mornings,
You're going to rise up singing,
Then you'll spread your wings
And take to the sky . . "

Lyrics by Dubose Heyward in lullaby, "Summertime,"  from George Gershwin's PORGY & BESS

Monday, August 22, 2016

Chrysalis Palace

My husband, the Tree Hugger and proud butterfly Foster Father chimes in:

Eight of our babies are in chrysalises, a 9th has finished feeding and is climbing the glass. A 10th is fat and will climb within a day.  And of course, we've been blessed with an 11th. Junior (don't call him "the runt") may take another two days.

When they reach the lid of the tank, they kind of loafor 8 hours or so, then they let go at the head end, and hang down attached to the lid only at their tail end.  Then the head starts hooking upward so the caterpillar looks like a "J".  After about a day, they form chrysalises, and this seems to happen very abruptly.  We look in and it's a "J"; then look in a half hour, and it's a completed chrysalis. You never see a half-built chrysalis. 

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Butterflies Aren't Exactly Free

When I wrote my last post, "The Nursery Is Ready," I was displaying my ignorance. We thought our crop of milkweed would be the nursery for the monarch butterfly eggs we planned to order. Eventually our milkweeds would become the pantry, as you will see. Although the website* mentioned the need for a "suitable rearing chamber," we thought we wouldn't need one because of our outdoor "nursery."  So when 28 eggs arrived on August 5th,  attached to a little milkweed plant, we were shocked to learn that we were supposed to raise the butterflies indoors. It was the weekend. We had nothing around the house that would do as a "rearing chamber." So we felt we had no choice but to put the little milkweed out on our patio and hope for the best. Something chewed up the leaves of the milkweed, but we never saw a single caterpillar. Not one. We felt bad.

I decided to try again.  Borrowing a terrarium from our daughter, I ordered just 10 eggs (or  caterpillars, depending on availability) for a little over $26. A box of caterpillars arrived within 2 days, cradled in a nest of milkweed leaves.

After laying a sheet of newspaper on the floor of the terrarium, we placed the caterpillars inside and said good night. 

Every morning for the next 10 days, we gathered 6 milkweed leaves from our front-yard plants. We washed them and patted them dry (butterflies get all the water they need from eating the leaves). Next we lifted the newspaper, containing the caterpillars, their poops and yesterday's shredded leaves, out of the terrarium. We laid fresh paper and returned the caterpillars--still clinging to shredded leaves--to the terrarium.  Finally, we placed the fresh leaves in the terrarium and closed the screen lid. 

Within 24 hours, the hungry caterpillars changed the sturdy milkweed leaves into tattered lace. They ate and ate and ate and mostly lolled around. One day a couple of them got into a skirmish that looked a little like a fight, but it was over almost before it began.  Mostly they ate.  And molted. And ate. I briefly considered ordering another batch of eggs/caterpillars, but our milkweed plants were turning yellow during the hot, steamy weather. Just when we thought their demand for leaves would exceed our supply, two of  the larger caterpillars stopped eating and began climbing the wall.

Reaching the top, they lay stretched out straight on the top for a day or two and then curled into a "J" shape.  Several hours later, I went in to check on them and was surprised to see two bright green chrysalises, along with a third caterpillar what had just reached the top.

When I saw the two chrysalises, 
I felt a little like a mother 
whose children had gone off to college 
without saying good-bye. 

As of today, there are 6 chrysalises at the top of the terrarium, plus 1 J-shaped caterpillar. A 7th chrysalis adheres to the glass, halfway up the side. Two large, fat caterpillars and 1 "runt" that has just molted remain on the bottom. Yes, you counted right. A few days ago we suddenly noticed that we were raising 11 butterflies. There must have been an egg on the leaves they came with.

It takes 10 to 14 days for a butterfly to hatch. We may be out of town for our nephew's wedding when that happens, so we may miss the finale of this miracle. Our daughter and her family will probably be the ones who see them off to Mexico.  Still, we are grateful for the part we got to play. We hope to do this again next year, maybe more than once. 

As I understand it from the brochure from Rose Franklin's Perenniels, our end-of-summer babies will probably migrate to central Mexico and spend the winter there. Their life spans will be longer than the 4-to-5-week lifespans of Monarchs hatched between spring and midsummer. After mating next February, the wintering Monarchs will start north as milkweed comes back to life in Texas. They will lay their eggs on the Texas milkweeds and their lives will end. It is their children that will continue the northward migration.