It's been another learning year. I raised 373 healthy butterflies from eggs. In mid-July I had several cats and chrysalis go bad from what looked like a bacterial problem. They were wild caught cats. In late July, I found 90 cats in the 2-5 instar groups and kept them separate so I could monitor them. Of those 90, only 23 eclosed. One was so small I didn't think she'd be able to fly - she did two days after eclosing (Yay!). One eclosed with wings so badly shredded that I euthanized her immediately. And one boy we kept as a pet because his right wings were half the size of his left wings. He died after a week in spite of our efforts. And then, of course, there was Pan, the cat who wouldn't eat and finally died almost a week ago at the ripe old age of 1 month. And - of those those ill-fated 90 - the bulk of them were parasitized, but I believe I actually cooked a few of them. Thinking it would help them to be in the warm sun, I think maybe they didn't eclose due to my ignorance. I still have one 3rd instar cat I found last week and four wild cat chrysalis that should be eclosing by mid-week - I've promised them I won't bake them.
One of the things I take away from almost every post on this forum is how everyone feels so responsible and - many times - guilty when something goes wrong with the life process. It is difficult to watch any critter suffer and struggle; I have to keep reminding myself that we are able to help - just not quite as much as we'd like. So, NEXT year, I'm putting in alot more milkweed. And my plan is to concentrate on egg collection. My husband pointed out that bringing in wild cats is sort of counter productive since their survival rate is so much lower - and emotionally draining. That sounds like a good plan, and I'm willing to agree to it now. We'll see what happens when next year rolls around.
Thank you, Mona, and everyone who has shared their experiences.