Caterpillars!

5 06 2008

Let me introduce you to our new house mates and my new dining table centerpiece. Seth’s not really into naming his buggy finds but his Papa and I call them Thing 1 and Thing 2. I believe they are both Forest Tent Caterpillars and will become rather common moths in due time if all goes well. I would prefer to be raising beautiful butterflies like Kristen but it wasn’t really up to me. Seth found these little guys over the weekend. One he carried home from a picnic at the park and the other was found on the walkway to our front door. He was very intent on keeping them so I immediately did a little internet research. I found that Discover Life has a great little caterpillar identification system for North America. (If you’re in Europe, try What’s This Caterpillar?) I found a large jar in the basement with a chipped lid and dried out rubber gasket. I tossed the lid as it had quite a potential for slicing open skin. However, I kept the metal wire hardware to use to secure cheese cloth over the opening once the little guys are in cocoons. I love how it turned out and feel it makes for a mighty fine centerpiece. Taking photos through glass is rather tricky but I hope you enjoy these shots.

Even if I didn’t have kids I think this would make for a cool conversation piece. It appears that there is quite a bit of concern brewing over reduced numbers of various butterflies. Seeing as the little caterpillars have a better chance of survival in captivity than the wild, raising butterflies may in fact be very beneficial to the environment. I for one, am going to keep my eye open for any caterpillars OTHER than the Forest Tent variety. Interested in making a Caterpillar house of your own? Here’s some details you might be interested in:

  • Pay attention to where you find your caterpillar. They can be picky eaters caring for only one or two types of plants/tree leaves. Test out a leaf with your caterpillar and you’ll quickly know if he likes it. Our little guys like oak and choke cherry leaves. It’s amazing to watch them devour a leaf in a short period of time.
  • Be very gentle while handling caterpillars. They bruise easily and even a broken whisker could do them in. It is beyond me how ours survived my son’s little fingers but they seem to be doing ok. I would recommend coaxing them onto a twig or leaf to transport them instead of just plucking them up.
  • Find a jar that has good visibility and enough room for the butterfly or moth to spread their wings and fly out when the time comes. A box with mesh sides would work as well but that takes more effort. An old aquarium would work wonderfully if you have one sitting around.
  • You will need a lid once the caterpillars go into cocoons unless you don’t mind butterflies or moths inside your house. Caterpillars can’t climb glass but if you have a stick going right up to the top you may want to consider a lid right from the start. Cheese cloth, wire mesh, tulle, a lid with holes cut into it, you name it.
  • Place a layer of sand on the bottom of the jar. It doesn’t need to be too thick, just cover any bare ground. This will help keep the humidity steady.
  • Add a stick or two or three for the caterpillars to rest on and possibly build their cocoons off of would be helpful. It also adds quite a bit to the look. Thing 1 and Thing 2 like to sleep up on the sticks and then come down to the bottom at feeding time.
  • If you so desire you could add additional elements as well, a nice rock, some star wars figurines. You get the picture.
  • A caterpillar can devour a leaf in a very short period of time, so make sure to keep a steady fresh supply at the ready. In other words don’t try to raise a caterpillar that has a craving for leaves you can’t find within 50 feet of your door.
  • You will need to clean out the leaf remains and caterpillar poop every couple of days at a minimum. Simply lift out the twig the little guys tend to rest on and replace the sand with fresh stuff. Trust me, you WILL see the poop.
  • If you’re lucky after a few weeks and some hardy feeding your caterpillars will go into the chrysalis stage and a week or two later emerge with wings! What an amazing transformation. Nothing seems to compare to the magic of a caterpillar change to a butterfly or moth.

I can’t wait to see how our little guys go though the circle of life. It’s been fun just having them hang out with us. For more information and other methods check out:

For those of you doing this with kids, don’t forget the best caterpillar book of all time – Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar. We have a giant board book version that I just adore.

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6 responses

5 06 2008
jenn

I had a green inch worm land on my shoulder the other day and I spent a good 5 minutes watching him as I lead him from stick to stick. I finally settled him on a leaf and let him be. Really fascinating to watch. And he was green, so he was less creepy.

5 06 2008
painted fish studio

i haven’t seen any caterpillars yet! i hope they come visit me soon… or wait, maybe i don’t?

5 06 2008
Kristen

Nice center piece! If you have parsley plants you will probably attract a few swallow tail eggs and caterpillars! Every summer we raise several from our parsley and from the Queen Annes Lace in the park. It will be so cool to see your moths! Then you will need to catch something else to sit so pretty on your table!

6 06 2008
Anna Y

this brought back a few happy memories from a good 28 years ago… simply loved growing catepillars at preschool….

14 06 2008
smoothpebble

Can’t wait to see the metamorphisis!

6 05 2010
pj

thanks for this because students in my school have been collecting inch worms and catepillars after school at dismissal and one of them saved it in a bag and almost suffocated it. i will read this to them.

but does anyone know a humane, non-toxic way to get rid of them from my garden? they are eating one or two of my plants and i think the maple tree on my street. anyone know what type that is. the best suggestion i heard so far was to pick them off with gloves and put them in a bucket of beer, so they can die happy.

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