Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Coddling Caterpillars

Ok, so it probably goes against nature in some way that I collect caterpillars off my milkweed vines and coddle them until they hatch into be-u-tiful butterflies, but I do and I'm not ashamed.  In fact, I live under the impression that my hatch-rate is higher if I bring the caterpillars indoors than if I leave them on the vine where spiders might eat them.  Plus, the kids think it is cool! 

If you're not a fan of upsetting nature's cycle, please look away.  But, if you'd like to have a really cool experience in metamorphosis, then listen up. 

This is milkweed:

It is a vine and grows on fences and in pastures and can sometimes be found as a weed in flowerbeds.  It is the most reliable source of monarch activity that I know of.  They lay their eggs and a few days later, little tiny caterpillars emerge. 

The eggs look like this:

Once I've located a few eggs, I start checking the vine everyday to see if I can see any caterpillar action.  This is what the eggs look like after they've hatched:

Kind of hard to see.  Here's another shot:

I think usually the caterpillar eats the egg casing, but in my case, I haven't found any caterpillars yet, so I have to assume they are being eaten by something as soon as they hatch.  But that is quite odd too because monarch caterpillars are said to be bitter because of the milkweed they eat.  I don't know. 

Anyway, this would normally be a good sign of caterpillar action, but so far I've not found any just yet:

I do, however, have a lot of these guys hanging around, threatening to buzz me, or sting me, when I look under the leaves:

And I'm allergic, so I really watch out. 

The monarchs are just now beginning their migration through Oklahoma.  I think I noticed my first one about two weeks ago, but did not notice any eggs on my vines until last week.  Caterpillars will follow, but it could still be a week or so, with temperatures dropping off this week.  It seems the egg-laying activity is dependent somewhat upon the weather. 

I did have this guy working my vines over last week, but alas, he was a boy so no additional eggs. 

So, get your mason jars ready and get some holes poked in the lids because by next week we'll be raising caterpillars, I'm just sure of it.  More on that when I have live specimens! 

Until then, here's a wrap-up of last year's activity.  I think I ended up hatching 15 at home and took at least a dozen more to my kids' classes for them to hatch and let go.  Hopefully this year will be just as exciting! 


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