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Home arrow Human Interest arrow Local arrow Winging it
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Human Interest - Local
Written by Wade Doak, The Listener   
Friday, 25 April 2008

A Northland butterfly lover has turned her lounge into a nursery for rare species.

All Elizabeth Amber wanted was a cup of nettle tea. Her desire for this health-giving drink, brewed from European stinging nettles, led her to a friend’s paddock at Parua Bay where she gathered some to take home. There, in her organic cottage garden on Mt Tiger in Northland, she established a contained clump.

One day she was delighted to find rare admiral butterflies fluttering over her nettles. Sublime yellow admirals and, to a lesser extent, red admirals were laying their individual, barrel-shaped eggs on the leaves. Nettles are the host plant for admirals in the same way that monarch butterflies require swan plants for their offspring. Elizabeth thinks red admirals would prefer the native nettle, or ongaonga (Urtica ferox), but the yellows, which are also found in Australia, prefer the common variety.

New Zealand Red Admiral Butterfly

I find I can induce one to trustingly strut from a deck rail onto my finger.

After about 10 days, she saw tiny black caterpillars, or pupae, their backs protected with a covering of branching golden hairs, crawling about and gnawing the leaves. Then she noticed some of them were drawing nettle leaves into a temporary tent by weaving taut silken threads between them. Within this protective canopy, they munched and grew, shedding their skins in small black piles four times as they matured. After about six weeks, chrysalises began to develop as the caterpillars drooped tail first from twigs. Then, within a pale golden casing adorned with spikes of burnished copper, silver and black, the bodies began to transform and darken, until they transformed into butterflies about a week later.

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Last Updated ( Friday, 25 April 2008 )
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