Saturday, July 30, 2011

Caterpillar Summer - the Sequel

We all wondered just what would happen, every last one of us. Standing there on the forest trail, the ten kiddos, some with their moms, watched intently as I gently removed him from the jar and placed him on a nearby leaf. Would he remain there, unsure of what to do now that he was free? Perhaps he was exhausted from the week in captivity and was unable to fly. Or maybe he was just taking his time and getting his bearings. It must have been the latter, as he only rested a brief moment before he lifted off and quietly fluttered up, up, and off between the trees toward the lake. "Bye, Bye, moth; we wish you well - go find a lady friend!"

So approached the end of the saga of the Single-eyed Sphinx moths, which began at this very camp and around this very time one year ago. Encouraged to find and catch all kinds of creepy-crawlies to observe and learn about, one girl gleaned the beautiful large female of this species, which promptly laid eggs and died. Although it certainly was not planned, I ended up raising the tiny caterpillars that hatched from those eggs a week later, after I'd returned home. It was not a difficult task, but did involve picking a great many willow leaves, cleaning up the aftermath of all that eating, and carrying those quickly-growing horn worms into Sunday School a few times to share with the children. Some of them had been at camp and were curious to see what was happening with the offspring of that huge moth. We really had no idea where it would all lead...

(To read the process of raising these moths,

By October, eight caterpillars had survived long enough to crawl under the forest duff in their terrarium and pupate. Winter came on with its dark, chilly, wet days and I stashed the terrarium, pupae and all, high up in the unheated loft above my husband's workshop. Out of sight, out of mind.

Only they really weren't - out of mind, that is. For it had always been my intention to share the results, whatever they were, with those kids at camp the next year. During the long winter and equally cold, wet spring, every once in a while my mind would wander up into the loft where I wondered what could be transpiring. Had they eaten enough to mature to the point they needed to as caterpillars? We had, after all, left town for two weeks in September, trusting that the willow twigs we'd left them with would be enough to tide them over until we returned. Was there enough soil to protect them from freezing? When should I bring them down and begin to watch for their hoped-for emergence?

Spring this year was cold and wet - unusually so, I think. Finally, near the beginning of June, I fetched the terrarium and set it on the side porch where I could keep an eye on it. I had no idea when they might emerge, if at all... research on the web only offered rough estimations, depending on where one lived. Near the end of June, I removed the lid - we were due to leave for a vacation and I did not want the moths to emerge only to beat themselves to death trying to escape.

Returning home after a few weeks, there was no sign that anything had changed. We replaced the lid and hoped for the best, knowing full well that any moths that may have developed were long gone. Family Camp was only two weeks away!

One morning the next week, we discovered two newly-emerged moths clinging to the screen lid. Smaller than their mother, their up-turned tails showed that they were males and the beautiful blue eye spots left no doubt as to their species. Digging through the soil I discovered four empty shells, proving that two others must have come out and flown off while the lid was off. I could only find three more - one was dead and two seemed to still be alive.

The moths went to camp. Exhilarated with the release of the first one, I repeated the procedure with the second one with a larger group of older kids. We all oohed and aahed as he fluttered off into the woods and I turned to lead the troops down to the lake, so I did not witness the final ending to this story. As the moth fluttered away, a Robin swooped down and snapped him up in mid-air! Tasty morsel that it was, I'm sure that Robin had no idea of the treasure she stole... but then again, she also needs to survive.

I only play in this game called Life - I don't make the rules.

Who provides for the raven its prey,
      when its young ones cry to God,
      and wander about for lack of food?
Is it by your wisdom that the hawk soars,
      and spreads its wings toward the south?
Is it at your command that the eagle mounts up
      and makes its nest on high? 
                        Job 38:41 & 39:26-27

Look at the birds of the air,
they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns,
and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.
Are you not of more value than they? 
                Matthew 6: 26

As of this writing, one more male moth has emerged and has been released at night to give him some chance of survival. Guess the saga hasn't ended yet... stay tuned.


  1. what a wonderful story!! i DO remember you talking about this before...but, unlike you...i had forgotten.
    what a wonderful thing...to observe the stages of the moth...and then watching them return to nature...BUT to be there and witness the bird who snatched one for a snack :( that would be a little sad to see...even though we know it's the way things are...

    love your pictures AND story!! love your love for life & nature!
    those Sphinx moths sure are big & beautiful!!
    (happy sunday!)

  2. This was all so interesting! Thanks for sharing. Love the photos! Too bad the one got snatched up right off the bat. Circle of life. ;)

  3. hey ladybug...i was going to email you after you left your last comment on my latest post...but couldn't find where to get in touch...and i didn't know if you check back at my comments...so thought i'd stop by here again!! YES!! we weirdos...need to stick together!! maybe if we can all somehow form a collective consciousness of nature lovers...we can help more people to love & respect what is all around them...and how fragile it is...

    anyway, i wish our weather here was a little cooler...maybe you can send some this way... :)

    take care & have a great day!

  4. Thanks, Laura - it's incredible how you read & respond to every comment... Special lady, me thinks you are! I like your comment about forming a "collective consciousness of nature". Perhaps through this blogging business we are, in some ways, doing just that. I know I am far more aware of just how many people out there are of a like mind with myself and share so willingly with the rest of us. I've learned so much about plants & animals in other parts of the world that I might not have otherwise.

    When I was a young person, it was highly unusual for a GIRL to be so very interested in such things and openly talk about it - thus my comment about fellow "weirdos". Although no one ever called me that to my face, I guess I always somewhat felt that must be what others were thinking. Age & perspective have helped me to see that one needs to be true to oneself, and I always have been. I'm so grateful to meet others of like minds, who likewise have probably always been that way! ...sort of a personal affirmation, if you see what I mean.

    YES, I do check back on your comments, although this has been a busy summer for us & I'm a bit behind on all the blogs I follow. The weeds are gaining on me, I fear!!

    This morning it is 62 & sunny here, with highs predicted in the 70s - beautiful weather.

    Thanks for your special efforts & comments - I deeply appreciate them.

  5. Lovely story about the moths. I'm glad the children didn't see the robin. I heard a similar story just the other day. Usually hearing about birds eating moths is heartening -- the woods around our house are full of moths and "ugly" webs holding chrysalises. I had not thought of them as bird food -- just wished they would go away. But I love the birds, so guess the drab brown moths and leaf-destroying caterpillars are one of the prices of enjoying the bird life.

    After recently reading a novel about life in a Chinese village during the early years of the Cultural Revolution, I grew to have even more appreciation for the humblest critters. Even today there are few birds in China. Mao declared they should be exterminated because they ate crops. He did not realize they also ate insect predators, and dire famine resulted.

    Mother Nature doesn't take our attacks lightly.

  6. Yes indeed, we are ALL connected one way or another. I had not heard that about birds in China, but there is plenty of evidence around that destroying 1 species in any given area creates more interesting "side affects" than one might have imagined...

    Sharon, I regret to inform you that quite a few of the children DID see the robin gulp down the moth... at least those who were paying attention did. In teaching children about the natural world, I believe that honest, factual information is best, as long as it is presented gently and is age-appropriate.Therefore, we had discussed what might happen to the moth before we released it and being eaten was one of the possibilities. Of course, none of us really expected to see that happen... but, it did give us a chance to talk about just why the moth laid so many eggs in the 1st place. On the + side, this was a REAL world experience - something many children tied to our electronic world don't get to have all that often.

    Thanks for stopping by & commenting!

  7. Wonderfully written and photographed post! Thanks for your visit to my blog! I am happy to know you will be following! While I have never lived n Washington, I have visited the Tacoma area when my son was stationed there at Ft. Lewis. I have also lived in and loved Idaho, my favorite place on earth. So glad to see you sharing your knowledge and love of nature with the younger generation.