Thursday, September 4, 2008

Do It Again

We're at it again. It's only been a few weeks since we took two Spicebush Swallowtail caterpillars into captivity to witness the metamorphosis from caterpillar to butterfly. In another post I mentioned one emerged and was released, the other looks as though it'll be spending the winter months with us and we won't see the final product until next year (but what a way to start the spring!).

Now we've adopted a few new "pets," three Monarch caterpillars (Danaus plexippus) found on our Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata), one of the best plants to attract Monarchs.

Monarch Caterpillar on Swamp MilkweedMonarch caterpillar feeding on Swamp Milkweed. Which end is which?

Feeling inspired by the swallowtail experience we decided to take all three into captivity and watch the chrysalis development, and when Reina starts school next week hopefully they can go with her. They can listen in on some geography to learn their migration route, but more to the point I suspect her class, including the teachers, would love the chance to witness the emergence of a butterfly.

We placed them in the same container we used for the swallowtails, not necessarily due to superstition, but it's the biggest and gives the clearest view.

Monarchs in captivityThree caterpillars in a jar (wasn't that a song by the Cure? No?).
Note the one in the lower-left, already in the pre-pupating "J-shape."
Chrysalis formation should follow in about 24 hours.

We discovered them on a "yard exploration" last Saturday morning, that evening we stocked the jar with fresh milkweed leaves and we clipped a suitable branch for crawling and the eventual chrysalis attachment. On Sunday two of the caterpillars we active, chomping on newly added leaves, the third (spontaneously named "Rosemary") was serenely lining the top of one of the branches. By evening Rosemary had formed a small, silk button and attached to the underside of the branch, hanging upside down in a classic J-shape.

Monarch in J-shapeWhen I took this photo I noticed "Rosemary" was slowly but
rhythmically pulsating, looking as though the milkweed it
ate was about to come back up. I should have stayed to watch!

Monday was Labor Day, that evening I checked in on the caterpillars as I went out to cut the lawn. Forty-five minutes later, when I returned, I glanced over - there was a chrysalis instead of the J-shaped caterpillar. And we missed it. But the second caterpillar, cryptically named "Kee," was now hanging in a J.

Monarch chrysalisThe chrysalis, hardened and with very interesting golden
decorations - that line of beads near the top and a few spots elsewhere
on the chrysalis. If anyone knows what they're for I'd love to hear!

Next day, Tuesday, and I was at work. Seems a similar series of events played out: Reina checked on the caterpillars, went outside to play and when she came in thirty minutes later there were two chrysalids. Missed it again, but we got the idea of when to expect it and how fast it occurs. One last chance: the third caterpillar, not named, was now in its J-shape.

Monarch chrysalids and caterpillarWednesday morning: two chrysalids complete,
caterpillar three (soon to be named) should be pupating
this evening. The light-green chrysalis is about 15
hours old, the dark-green one is about a day and half old.

The third time was a charm, just not for me. The caterpillar jar was moved in the living room before I went to work. Reina planned to check on the final caterpillar periodically, especially during and following her afternoon snack. Sure enough, she and Donna witnessed the event in the late afternoon. I got the excited, not-so-coherent second-hand accounts: apparently it was cool, it involved a lot of wiggling, or maybe it was wriggling, but that's all I really understood about the process. Maybe this gives a clue: after watching the caterpillar pupate Reina promptly named it "Skinloser." Of course, you can always check out numerous examples on YouTube, but it's not the same. Assuming the Swamp Milkweed comes back, my consolation is that there's always next year.



jan m said...

How neat that your daughter got to be the one to witness the change. My oldest daughter used to love to spend time at the swamp near us, and she would come back full of stories about her nature discoveries.

noflickster said...

Hi jan m,

The main thing I'm happy about is that she's as excited as she is about our "yard explorations." Hopefully I'll get to witness that piece of nature next time around. We had a great time today watching aphids and ladybugs, coincidentally on the same plant we found the Monarchs. I'll miss this when she's older and nature and/or parents are uncool!

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