Friday, July 27, 2012

Our very own and VERY hungry caterpillars

We are one big science project this summer taking advantage of all things creepy and crawly that grow in and around our yard.  Our neighbor clued us in on the monarch caterpillar and butterflies.  We searched the milkweed that grows in their yard and together figured out what a teeny tiny monarch egg looks like.  If you are curious, it looks like a white tip to a ball point pen.  With a little prayer and luck we gave it a try.  Batch one hatched and grew fast…three days later I thought they might like some time on the deck while we headed to church.  Bad idea. Two hours later they were fried.  So we tried again.  And this time we have been lucky.

The kids watch in awe (most of the time) at how fast they grow and how much they eat.  I can’t get enough of reading up on the process. Watching it “live” has been an incredible learning experience.

The egg is circled.  This is as it is about to hatch, about four days after the butterfly laid it on the underside of the milkweed leaf.  They turn from a milky white to a gray “bulge” as the little caterpillar gets ready to hatch.


When first born they are the size of the lead on a sharpened pencil.  They are gray in color with a black head.


At first the growth happens slowly.  The teeny tiny caterpillar is barely visible.  I am still surprised, while cleaning out the box and adding new leaves, I didn’t throw any little guys away.  Bit by bit and leaf by leaf they grew and developed the familiar yellow and black stripes.

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We picked fresh leaves daily and as the days went on, the caterpillars ate more and more.  Towards the end of their life as a caterpillar they would eat a leaf clean, leaving only the vein in just a days time.

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With eating, comes pooping.  As they grew, so did the poop.  Nothing a little cage cleaning couldn’t take care of.

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The time was near (around 2 weeks after hatching) and we knew they were reaching full growth.  We had one that was a few days older and true to the books, he stopped eating and began looking for a place to form his chrysalis.  He was supposed to crawl to the roof and find his spot.  This did not happen.  He found the underside of a leaf and spun it there.  I had 12 hours to figure out what to do, as I didn't’ think this would work. As you can see below he is the middle caterpillar curled up.  One phone call later, and it was decided. Cut the leaf and tape it to the roof, thus not disturbing the caterpillar.  It worked! 

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Ten hours later, magic happened.  He shed his final layer of skin and he was enveloped in a green casing. His chrysalis.  The kids were in awe, and so was I.

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Two days later the other two were ready.  Within hours of each other, they found spots on the top of the cage and began the process.  It is nothing short of amazing and we haven’t even seen the finished, and sure to be beautiful, finale.

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We now wait.  The books say it takes about 10-14 days for the butterflies to hatch.  I will be back with a story of transformation and the butterfly release that follows!

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