A tale of very hungry caterpillars turning pumpkin eaters sounds a mishmash of children’s stories, but for Hannelore Lintzen-Fuchs it’s a fascinating true account of how she’s succeeded in breeding endangered Monarch butterflies.
Hannelore shared her story with the Chronicle last week before returning to Germany, having spent the summer as she does with family on Wainui Road where 60-odd caterpillars are currently very busy morphing from larvae to chrysalises to the beautiful butterflies of storybook fame.
And all on an additional diet of pumpkin – fine slivers of it in small pottles and large bowls covered with garden mesh to which they attach before their ultimate transformation.
Hannelore then carefully removes the mesh – with its chrysalises dangling – to the great outdoors, watches and waits.
“It is so interesting to see how the caterpillars shed their skin (before becoming chrysalises),” she says in near-perfect English of the process that happens annually before her eyes on the coffee table of her granny flat. “And it is very nice to observe the butterfly come out.”
When the Chronicle called to see her project there was a large piece of mesh draped over the handlebars of a bicycle at the door with a dozen or so green caterpillar chrysalises attached, and outside in the garden were small single bits of mesh – each with its own chrysalis – pegged to an old drying rack.
“Here they hatch,” Hanelore explained. The new butterflies can dry their wings better in the breeze outside before flying free. And six-year-old grand-daughter Nina gets to hold them on the tip of her finger before they flutter away.
Nina and her father Glenn Campbell are now – since Hannelore’s departure – “in charge” of the operation, says the legendary surfer who was New Zealand champ way back in the ‘80s. GC, as he’s better known locally, met his German wife Anne while working as a surf instructor here in Raglan and reckons together with Nina they’re up to the challenge of seeing the butterflies hatch successfully.
He showed the Chronicle the decimated swan plants in their garden from which his mother-in-law plucks the bigger caterpillars each year to nurture inside. They munch the leaves and strip the plants bare, only the largest of the species able to survive and successfully metamorphosise with the help of what the experts now call “alternative fuels” like pumpkin.
Fresh cucumber will also sustain resourceful Monarch caterpillars, according to the internet from where Hannelore first got her information. But they apparently need lots of the host plant first – finishing off with an alternative – to grow the required 3000 times in size from when the Monarch eggs are laid through to metamorphosis.