Wednesday, September 02, 2009


This summer I got on Freecycle and asked for some caterpillars. And I got so much more. Monarch Marie wrote to me explaining that she didn't just hand out monarch caterpillars to anyone, she wanted to make sure they were going to a good home. So we got to visit her home and get a full education on the care and feeding and life cycle of the monarch caterpillar. She walked us to a nearby park and showed us how to identify milkweed and monarch eggs that may be hiding on the milkweed. She sent us home with a fresh stalk of milkweed and our own baby caterpillar. This picture doesn't do the little guy justice. He was SosoSO small we could barely find him the first few days.

But oh did he grow.

I completely understand where Eric Carle for the inspiration for The Hungry Caterpillar. These little fellas eat and eat and eat and eat. And then when we brought home fresh milkweed we inevitably brought home more hungry mouths hatching from the leaves.

We realized that Fatty, as he was dubbed, didn't like air conditioning. So after a few days indoors we moved them out in to the heat where they were all happy and warm.

Of course we did the appropriate reading including Zach's favorite which was The Story Of The Butterfly Children by Elsa Beskow. And non-stop playing with the Butterfly life cycle tiles and beautiful wooden monarch by Mama Roots.

Once the caterpillar shed his skin several times and is good and fat, he climbs up and away from the milkweed and hangs in a "J" preparing himself for the chrysalis stage. Zach was so excited when our first cat went into his "J".

Then there were some problems. There is an icky predator called the tachinid fly who lays its eggs in monarch caterpillar bodies. You never know if your little cats have been infected until they either drop dead before getting nice and fat, or hang in their J, go into their chrysalis, and then lose color and have these white strings hanging off them. Of the approximately 8 caterpillars we ended up with, half died from the tachinid flies.

The other four are at this very moment all in their chrysalis stage. But we have a little hitch in the master plan. We were planning a weekend sail with a bunch of friends and neighbors from the marina. And yesterday morning Zach found this.

In an Herculean effort to chrysalize away from the milkweed as nature pre-programs him to do, one caterpillar escaped our habitat and somehow made it across our cockpit without getting squished and up to our steering wheel. He's happily going through that miraculous metamorphasis... and we're unable to steer the boat until he's finished.

Can you see the beautiful gold specs on the chrysalis? They are just stunning. And we were lucky enough to catch our last little guy IN THE PROCESS of changing. We made a little video of the process, but I tried all night and all morning to load it and Blogger sort of froze up on me. So here is a YouTube link to see what it looks like.

We're starting to see the wings through the chrysalis of our original baby. I truly can not tear Zach away from the habitat. He's keeping a steady watch, reporting enthusiatically about every change. The big question remains, will our steering wheel cat, nicknamed Captain Courageous, emerge before our weekend sailing rendezvous? Stay tuned...


Joy said...

I can't wait to show this post to Elizabeth. She did the same process in 2nd grade last year with her monarch caterpillar. She was lucky enough to watch a classmate's butterfly emerge and was just thrilled by the whole experience. She kept a journal of the whole process (for over a month). Such an exciting experiment. I'm sure Zach's just loving this.

PS. We love mamaroots too. Somewhere in the nether regions of my blog is a photo of the Mitten set she made for us last winter. We love it!

Joy said...

PPS. Knitting will be on the schedule when next you visit! ;)

Rob A said...

So cool!
We (dad & boys aged 4 & 6) read about this 2 days ago in Angela Royston's Life Cycle of a Butterfly

gardenmama said...

This is so incredible Cindy!!
How wonderful to have met this woman on freecycle! Certainly an amazing process, your photos are lovely! Zach must be thrilled! Thank you for the book recommendation, I am so excited to find it!! love, love mamaroots butterfly! (I had to smile at the spot your little friend choose to live in for the moment!) I hope sailing is in your near future!

Dim Sum, Bagels, and Crawfish said...

It is a pretty amazing process. Keeping my fingers crossed that he emerges before your sailing trip!

kate said...

This is soooo cool! I love that Zach took such an interest AND has had the opportunity to experience the whole life cycle so up close and personal! Here's to enjoying the last bits of changes, here's to the joy of watch those beautiful butterflies emerge....and here's to your next sailing adventure (whenever it may come!)

ps-- love that mamaroots stuff-- thanks for the link!

Stuff On My Blog said...

That is totally awesome :D So how long are you marina bound since you can't steer? hehehe

Lily Boot said...

how can a person not believe in magic when they see this! Exquisite!

wholarmor said...

That's so cool! And amazing that the caterpillar escaped and found it's way to the steering wheel, lol! Hopefully you won't be held captive for long!

My uncle used to raise Monarch caterpillars. I was so fascinated by them! I should get some for my kids to raise. Very cool that you found someone on Freecycle to help you out!

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