Category Archives: caterpillars

What Do Woolly Bear Caterpillars Eat?

Woolly Bear.JPGDid you ever wonder?

The Woolly Bear Caterpillar, the larval stage of the Isabella Tiger Moth, can be spotted all over the place on the East Coast this time of year. Like most insects except the Monarch, they will spend the winter here in a hibernation-like state called diapause. Many species of butterfly and moth actually spend the winter tucked into their chrysalis. The Woolly Bear is spotted out a bit later in the season perhaps in part because it actually spends the winter in caterpillar form, with a special anti-freeze inside of it that will keep it from forming ice crystals inside its body. Continue reading

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A Polyphemus Moth Grows Up

Three Polyphemus Eggs hatched on June 13th.

FullSizeRender.jpg

My oh my how the time has flown, because just yesterday the first emerged from her cocoon! Here is the tiny caterpillar that almost escaped but that I finally found, after a lot of searching, clinging to my own hair.

IMG_7005.JPGSo furry! So big! How can those two photos be of the same creature sitting on my hand? Continue reading

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Monarchs in the Morning, Lunas in the Evening

Wow. When I guessed that I would post less in my blog once I had a full-time job I was not mistaken. As it is I am barely doing all of the things I once adored, like getting enough sleep, going birding frequently, exercising infrequently, hand-shaking my whipped cream in a Mason Jar, working on Wild Peace Farm

But I have nevertheless done all of those things some, and also joined two book clubs, learned a lot about infectious disease, and continued to rescue caterpillars (#whorescuedwho?). Guys if you do one thing as a result of reading this blog post, I profoundly hope that it is click on that #link which is to an Amy Schumer clip.

But seriously, who rescued who?Monarch 2015

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Polyphemus Moth Caterpillar

Polyphemous Moth Caterpillar

I took this photo in mid-late October at Sugarloaf Mountain while on a field trip with my Eastern Forests class. I cannot take credit for spotting this creeper, nor full credit for its identification as a Polyphemus Moth. Someone else found it, and Stephanie immediately knew it was a member of the Giant Silk Moth (Saturniidae) family that includes the Luna Moth. In this family, the Greek god Saturn’s children and the planet Saturn’s moons and other mythological Greek creatures are represented. The Luna Moth is an astonishingly beautiful insect, and the other giants (this was at least 1.5x the length of a Monarch) are just as remarkable although less well known and less often seen. Saturniids overwinter in a silk cocoon and emerge as an adult moth in the spring, flying, in the Luna’s case, at night. The adults have no working mouths. Since eating is out, their only goal is to find another loving mouthless adult in the dark to lose their virginity to. They find each other using pheromones (I am basing this claim loosely on my memory of Barbara Kingsolver’s Prodigal Summer). They mate, and the female lays eggs, and they die. The next generation, the caterpillars, grow up over the summer. Seemingly reliable internet sources tell me that Polyphemus Moths often have two generations a year, with some caterpillars maturing in mid-summer to produce more caterpillars that will overwinter and mature in the following spring. This guy was at the end of the larval period, surely on the brink of cocoon season. Interestingly all of the images of Polyphemus caterpillars that I’ve found on Google show them curled up and hanging in a manner similar to this one. This rock, next to the parking lot, did not seem like a choice spot for avoiding the all-too-well-known-to-this-blog dangers of being eaten as an overwintering chrysalis or cocoon. Birds will go wild for that kind of protein in the cold months. So it was unclear what this friend was up to: taking a strange break or choosing a poor spot to pupate, or dying, or maybe something else beyond my mammalian imagining.

I was delighted though, in any case. Two of the Luna Moths I have seen made deep wrinkles in my brain where I can revisit them again and again.

Polyphemus was the son of Poseidon, and he was a Cyclops. SEE why this is the moth named for him? (I mean not totally since there are pairs of eyes, but one per wing, right?)

Polyphemus Moth

(I WISH this photo was mine. It is from GOOGLE).

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The Viceroy Butterfly and Monarch Mimicry Trickery

I have lived a number of childhood nature dreams involving Monarchs this summer. Thank you very much Wild Peace Farm for making it all possible. I saw a wild Chrysalis (in the tomatoes!), I saw multiple caterpillars molting, I saw a Monarch form its chrysalis, I saw a butterfly emerge from its chrysalis, I saw a Monarch egg hatch. I mean come on! But one thing just got checked off my list, and after so many spoils I wasn’t in any way expecting it.

This butterfly flew around me while I picked Sweet Peppers on Wednesday, and it is not a Monarch. Can you spot the differences?

Viceroy  Viceroy ButterflyMonarch ButterflyMonarch Butterfly (female)

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Why You Should Worry About the Butterflies

http://onpoint.wbur.org/2014/08/20/monarch-butterflies-migration-climate-change

A podcast for you! 

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Monarch Caterpillar Forming a Chrysalis!!!!!!!!

As always, things get a little shaky filming (videoing?) with my iPhone 3 while also trying to closely observe a MIRACLE with my own eyeballs. I mean I wanted to share it with you but not as much as I wanted to watch for myself.

This miracle took place Saturday afternoon Continue reading

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Monarch Caterpillar Day by Day From Egg to Chrysalis

Fast. 

I collected this egg after seeing the Mama Monarch lay it at Wild Peace Farm on August 2 (Saturday). Now my little baby, who I watched hatch, is a chrysalis, becoming an adult as we speak! Parenting this adolescent is really not the hardest. 

Tuesdayphoto copy 5Wednesdayphoto copy 4

August 7th (Thursday) 2nd Instar- molting occurred overnightphoto copy 3

August 8th (Friday)  3rd Instar- molting observed seconds before this photo! photo copy 2

August 9 (Saturday) 3rd instar fattened up photo copy 7

August 10th (Sunday) 4th instar- molting occurred overnight!! photo copy 6

August 11 (Monday) photo copy 2

Aug 12th (Tuesday) He molted into a 5th instar on the drive to Ocean City 

5th instar Monarch eating cuticle

Aug 13th (Wednesday) 5th instar and eating too much to believe!

5th instar Wed 5:13

August 14 (Thursday)photo copy

August 15 (Friday) at 11pm the J beganMonarch in a J

August 16 (Saturday) at 2:30pm- My little guy did it! This party got started at 2pm, and looked pretty set by 2:30!Brand new Monarch Chrysalis

August 20th (Wednesday) 8PM

Monarch Chrysalis clearing

 

August 23 (Saturday) Just Before Midnight

chrysalis clearing

 

August 24th (Sunday) 9AM

about to be reborn

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Video: Monarch Caterpillar Hatching From an Egg

*I “filmed” this through a small hand lens held against my 4 year old iPhone. What I am saying is, I’m sorry if you get motion sick, cannot see anything, or are otherwise less than satisfied. I certainly managed to entertain myself.*

I collected this egg on Saturday. While laying their many eggs, Monarch butterfly ladies fly around landing on plants for a microsecond. What they are doing is smelling the leaves with their feet! If they land on a milkweed, the caterpillar’s only chosen food (gluten free), the female butterfly stays for maybe 2 seconds. It is hard to see anything happening,  but afterwards there may be a little tiny yellow dot on the bottom of the leaf! I am pretty sure that I saw the butterfly lay this egg which is just like, I mean I am surprised I am not crying about the beauty of all this lifecycle shizz but it has been a long day.

Monarch egg

I spent a lot of time trying to find Monarch eggs when I was a child, and I almost never did. So lets be honest, when I first spotted these I knew one was going to come home with me. Ethical arguments aside, the moments when you know without a doubt just what you are going to do irrelevant of whatever you should do are rare, and we should embrace them.

This morning I noticed that the little egg was no longer yellow, but sort of clear with a black spot on the top. I had already read that this is a sign you should stay home all day and stare at it through your hand lens until nothing happens except your squint lines don’t go away after you stop squinting and you are kind of sweaty.

Monarch Egg Black Ready to Hatch

But then, you know, something happened. Six hours later!

First Instar Monarch Eating Egg

And the baby ate her egg. Some would say this is an argument for eating your placenta. Some would say that is disgusting and not actually the same thing at all. Who am I to judge? She ate all of it and came back looking for more. Very very hungry caterpillar.

This little baby first instar, who will shed her skin 4 times before a final shedding unsheathes a chrysalis, is very delicate. Since she emerged two hours ago I have actually thought I killed her twice with my thumb. Now she is safely in a Mason jar. That’s right everyone, I am raising a hipster butterfly. She is tucked in with a fresh, pesticide free baby Milkweed leaf, from which she will supposedly only eat the hairs. Because the whole leaf is so 2011 to eat and also because the hairs are almost as big as she is, so they are enough.

*update from the future- the hairs were NOT enough, and she ate about three times her body size worth of leaf in a day.*

I hope she lives. The odds would be against her in the wild (even Wild Peace) and I suppose they may even be here #masonjarproblems.

But whatever I’m totally excited. And also I am helping her! Maybe.

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Black Swallowtail Forming a Chrysalis

Ok, folks, hold onto your hats and prepare for a mothereffing MIRACLE!!!!!!

I bore witness to this amazing and freakish occurrence. It was EXACTLY like watching a birth: seemed impossible before it happened. Seemed impossible after it happened. But I saw it happen. You can too, thanks technologeewhiz.

 

 

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