I invite you to gaze upon my caterpillar nursery! I put it together for myself and the family and anyone who comes over to visit. . . . . . .
Year after year, indeed for the last 11 years we have lived on this property (four acres boarding state land), I have kept watch in the later summer days for monarch caterpillars. (They are only ever on milkweed). If I see a caterpillar, I collect it and bring it home to raise on the counter in a big jar or a fish tank. (We used to have a different fish tank but it broke when someone tried putting rocks in it).
We were fortunate to find perhaps 4 caterpillars, and sometimes none at all. This year, however, this epic summer of 2017, we have found over 20 of them. If I were more scientific, I would do a precise count, but it is rather difficult and confusing to try to count caterpillars when they are all over the place and in various sizes.
I am a busy mom and wife, it’s a wonder that I have time to sit and watch a caterpillar nursery at all….or write a blog! But these things give me much needed rest and enjoyment, they are interests that I have……and no matter what your interest and passion is….big or small….it should be pursued and nourished.
I picked these five off their milkweed (which was almost gone) and put them on the floor of the tank so I could give them fresh food. They looked so cute all in a row that I had to take a photo of them.
Every couple of days I replace the leaves from the three small bud vases I have in the tank with fresh milkweed from the garden, which is conveniently right outside the kitchen door. Caterpillars are naturally very hungry and grow quickly. It’s fun to watch their little heads go up and down the edges of the milkweed like tiny machines. I bet if it were quieter in my house I might even hear them chewing.
Can you see the difference in this caterpillar? Grace and I found two of them on Queen Anne’s lace down by the pond. We are almost positive that they are the caterpillars of Black Swallowtail Butterflies.
An urge that I have so far neglected this summer is to get out colored pencils and draw these beautiful patterns that I see. . . .(maybe today?)
I clipped some cut-to-size screen (from an old window) to the top edge of the tank with clothespins. When the they have eaten their full and are “ready”, the caterpillars go to the screen to “dangle” for a day or two, before bursting their caterpillar skin to reveal a most beautiful green and gold chrysalis beneath.
This one’s small but they start out even smaller…..
I have to laugh when I go out to collect fresh food for them because I inevitably end up bringing inside even MORE caterpillar babies. David says, “Mom, how many do you NEED?” He is probably the child who is most interested in them and I love to see his face peering into the tank.
“Oh no this one looks different, what’s wrong with it?” I watched it closely and realized it was molting. It was gripped to the leaf with it’s “end” and wriggling the skin down, rather like when you or I take off stockings with our hands, and “stepping out” fresh and clean.
Ah, it feels so good.
“fresh and clean”
An empty chrysalis next to six green ones.
This caterpillar is getting ready to “dangle” by finding the perfect spot on the screen and attaching itself to it with its homemade silk. The children get nervous if I move the screen, they are afraid the chrysalises might fall off, but they are firmly attached and “just think, outside they would be safe even in the winds and rain”. So I move the screen in confidence.
This one had attached itself to a milkweed leaf, which wasn’t a good choice, because eventually the other caterpillars ate the leaf causing the chrysalis to drop down to the bottom of the cage. I picked it up and dangled it over the edge of the tank. When I hear the children say, “Mom, one of them is black!” I know that we will soon see a butterfly.
In fact, as I am writing this, a butterfly has newly hatched right in front of our eyes, and three more black ones are ready to come out any minute.
Why just put milkweed in the tank when you can also add flowers?
They make lovely strands of silk. I took a picture right after this caterpillar molted. You can see its bunched up rag of old skin up at the top of the photo.
They eat so much I wondered what I would do if we ran out of leaves (it won’t happen this year) and then I noticed that where I picked the leaves off, new ones are growing!
I know, this is a simple gardening concept, but I never thought to apply it to my milkweed! The resilience of growing things is amazing.
Milkweed grows outside the kitchen door, mingled in with our lilac bush.
And more milkweed (tall stalks with long oval leaves) is in the side garden.
I had to laugh when I saw a chrysalis outside in the lilac bush, I guess I missed bringing this one inside!!
I can move the chest of drawers around to get a better view, or better lighting for photos.
It stays like this most of the time. Better than any TV show.
It’s fascinating to watch them split, revealing a bright green underneath.
These changes are done so silently and quickly that we miss it most of the time.
It wriggles in such a strange fashion and the bunch of skin drops to the bottom of the tank.
I did a short video while I was blogging this post.
They first come out with their body much bigger than their wings. I always think of origami when I see them emerge……it’s sort of like reverse origami. Only God could package something up like this and have it come out as beautiful as a butterfly…
The butterfly hangs and dries, once in a while a drip of fluid will fall. Once I see them opening their wings for the first time I will take them carefully outside on a stick and put them up on the lilac bush.
“I look upon a year lived as a year earned; and each year earned means a greater treasury of experience and power laid up against time of need.” Anna Botsford Comstock
“God created the heavens and the earth to be experienced, not just read about or lectured upon.” Bob Schultz