Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Caterpillar Summer

So there it was: two alive, three dead, and eight nowhere in sight. I began to be hopeful...

It all began innocently enough. At camp this year, as always, I told the kids to look for bugs - to observe and gently capture any that we could learn something about during the week. On one of the first evenings, Jessica and her Grandma found and caught a huge moth they discovered resting on a tree. Dull grey and brown, with plump, furry body and wingspan of around 4 inches, it sported two bright blue eyespots on the bottom edge of each lower wing. Into a large, clean peanut butter jar it went and thus began our first "creature feature" of the week.

As surprised as this moth might have been to find itself entrapped, it held a bigger surprise for us - tiny yellow eggs began appearing on the sides and bottom of its container! The kids were enthralled; I found myself needing to explain the life cycle of a moth and the fact that it would soon die. By the end of the week my prediction had come true. The kids wanted to know what would happen to the eggs. Reluctantly, I told them that removing the eggs from the jar would probably destroy them and I doubted that they would hatch outside of their normal environment. I'd take them home and we'd see. Little did I know...

At home a week later, camp stuff still on the porch where I'd left it, a strange movement caught my eye. All around the lid of the jar crawled a myriad of tiny worms. I'd written the eggs off and forgotten about them, but now sprang into action. Where to put them? How to care for them? What were they, anyway??

Small enough to easily crawl through window screening, they were put in a cheesecloth-covered jar. Quick research identified them as Single-Eyed Sphinx moth larvae which would eat willow or poplar leaves only. Luckily, we have an abundance of native willows around, so my daily routine began to include picking fresh twigs for them. Smaller than the lead of a pencil to begin with, weeks of voracious eating ultimately led them to become plump, green caterpillars as big around as a pencil, each with a short, sharp "horn" at its rear end. Of course, I shared their progress with the kids!

Over a month had passed, and we were soon to leave town for a few weeks' vacation. I debated whether to turn the caterpillars loose to fend for themselves (and consider my efforts all in vain) or leave them well-stocked with willow twigs and hope for the best. I decided to risk leaving them - knowing full well that we might return to a bunch of dead worms.

Returning home, I approached their container with trepidation. They were not all dead, but where were those unaccounted for? Carefully digging down into the brown forest soil I'd left in the bottom, I discovered what I'd hoped for. There were all the missing ones; now inert and encased in brown, shiny skins, they'd done as they were meant to do - crawled underground and become pupae.

Mystery solved.

So ends the "summer of the caterpillars." Now there is nothing left to do, but wait...

I will wait for the LORD,
my soul waits,
and in his word I put my hope.
Psalm 130:5

To see what happened after the waiting, please click here:
Caterpillar Summer - The Sequel

1 comment:

  1. wow!! nice learning experience...and great photos! especially the tiny caterpillar on the pencil!!

    i think i've seen these dark brown 'casings' in the yard...empty...never knew what they were!

    and by the way...i love your mushroom/fungi collection on the sidebar!! very cool!!