Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday:
"Teaching a child not to step on a caterpillar..."

"Teaching a child not to step on a caterpillar 
is as valuable to the child as it is to the caterpillar."
-Bradley Millar


A few weeks ago I was mowing the lawn (something I love to do, by the way) and I noticed there were hundreds of fuzzy caterpillars all over my sunflower plants.  Worrying that they may be poisonous (as they were fuzzy), I ran inside and looked up "what caterpillars eat sunflowers" on Google and discovered that not only were they not poisonous, but that they are fairly easy to raise in jars through to butterflies.


Ten Easy Steps to Raise
Gorgone Checkerspot (
Chlosyne gorgone) Butterflies:


1. Plant some sunflowers and wait for them to bloom.




2. Set up a jar with cut sunflower leaves and a stick or two, using cotton cheesecloth (or netting) for the top.




3. Look for the tiny, bright green caterpillar eggs that butterflies have laid on the underside of the sunflower leaves.




AND THEN


4. Go searching for evidence of caterpillars that have hatched.  Gorgone Checkerspot caterpillars will congregate to eat when they are really young, but venture out on their own as they get bigger.  They also kind-of skeletonize the sunflower leaves, which will be an indicator as well.




5. Gather a few caterpillars munching on the leaves and drop them carefully into the jar.




6.  Watch them eating.  Also, you may have to clean out their excrement (called frass) after a few days if you get them while they are very young, as well as provide them with new, fresh sunflower leaves.  Carefully remove the leaves they are on and wipe out the tiny frass with a damp paper towel.  Remove any mostly-eaten leaves, and then place new leaves into the jar.  Carefully place the leaves with the caterpillars on them back into the jar as well. **See #7.



  
7. When they are ready to perform metamorphosis, they will find a nice spot to curl up and hibernate   **Be careful if you are moving them around to clean inside the jar after they have started to curl up.  I had one adhere to the top of the cheesecloth a day before the others even started to slow down eating, but was able to lift it off carefully, place it over the mouth of a cup, and then replace it without disturbing the pupa.



8. It will only take a few hours before the outside of the pupa forms around them.




9.  Wait and watch the transformation.  This took at least a week.  Then, one afternoon, we noticed one of the pupa was transparent.




Upon further examination of our jar, we had one Gorgone Checkerspot butterfly ready to be released!  (It the below picture, you can see it drying its wings and waiting on us, but you can also see one of the other pupae as well, yet to emerge.)


10.  Release the butterfies back toward the sunflowers to do it all again.  I had to reach into the jar and let it ride up on my hand because it could not climb the glass and was not utilizing the stick, but that was okay.  After it flew away, it came back to say hi again and SC thought that was amazing.




Sorry that some of the pictures are blurry.  My nice extra-zoom camera only wanted to take pictures of the glass of the jar, so I was stuck using my phone, which only barely focused through the glass.


Sunflowers also attract other butterflies similar to the Gorgone Checkerspot; in fact, at first we thought we had Bordered Patch butterflies!  You could also plant parsley, dill or fennel to attract some Black Swallowtail butterflies, which produce long, fat, beautiful caterpillars, and of course planting milkweed will attract the Monarch butterfly and its offspring.  


Also, there are a number of companies that sell live baby caterpillars and will ship them to you, complete with a food substitute, small jar for them to pupate in, and a large cage to observe the butterflies once they emerge.  However, I don't think this is nearly as fun or educational as creating a home for them based on what they eat in the wild.


Finally, here are some early reader books that go along with learning about the life cycle of a caterpillar/butterfly:





        


Have you ever tried raising butterflies at home?  Leave a comment with how it went, and then check out some more Top Ten Tuesday posts here

Many Little Blessings


**This post contains affiliate links.  Please read my disclosure statement.
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