Monday, August 17, 2009

Our first caterpillar-to-moth experience.

Back on July 21, Hannah discovered this little guy in her flower garden.

I was sure that he was going to be a huge, fantastically beautiful butterfly and excitedly looked him up on some very cool butterfly identifying websites. He wasn't on them. So we kept him alive until he went into his cocoon.

Or partway into his cocoon anyway. Look at that. When a caterpillar makes a cocoon that has his butt hanging out, can you say he did a half-assed job?

His butt isn't hanging out of course, but the way he designed his cocoon - sleek on the top, rather form-fitting on the bottom - makes it look like he left it hanging out.

And it moved, too. If you picked him up, that little butt end would flip back and forth. He's been in there for over three weeks. Last week I showed him to my sister and told her that I change his soft grass every few days. I wondered in a half-joking voice if he was really dead, just having 'tremors' (maybe like a chicken's body after the head is removed?), and would be doing this for the next twenty years, and wouldn't that be funny? In a fully-joking-because-my-sister-is-a-nut voice, my sister said that she would think it was funny if I kept changing his grass for the next twenty years.

Tonight, while I was making pancakes, I heard Hannah say "I've never seen that kind of moth before."

Ho-ho! What's this?

Oh, he was gorgeous, just hanging there on that grass. He'd climbed out of the jar and onto the longer grass stems to dry his wings.

I wish I had better pictures, but this camera is just not working properly when it comes to light exposure in the house. I should get it looked at. Sometime.

He was big. As long as my pinkie. We took a few pictures (the ones of him drying out his fully spread out wings didn't turn out at all - his 'under wings' were hot pink - so pretty), inspected him with the magnifying glass (sucker had HUGE eyes), and then when his wings started doing a furious 'flying in place' type of movement, we ran him outside to the patch of weeds in the flower garden that he was found in. He took off (have I mentioned that he was quite big?) and Hannah cried about missing him for a few moments.

We're lucky she saw him when she did. We almost missed him altogether. After how strange I thought he was *in* his cocoon, to change his grass tomorrow and have him missing would have been even more strange. I do wish that I'd have noticed him sooner so that we could have done some actual gentle measurements and maybe had a better chance at getting good pictures, but that's the adult-homeschooling-parent in me talking. My little girl was thrilled by what she did get.


Jessi asked in the comments what was left of his cocoon - I'm really glad she asked because I'd forgotten to look. I went and dug through the dry grass and the brown shell was there, with a white milky substance inside. I could manipulate the tail end and stretch it out quite a ways. Very cool.

My friend Lindsay fixed the pictures up for me. You can check out her pictures here and here. Much clearer. Thank you Lindsay!


jimmycrackedcorn said...

Terrific job! Couldn't have gone much smoother.

Sarah said...

Wow!! How neat!!

Lindsay said...

Wow, that's great! How fun for Hannah too.

I'm trying to brush up on my Photoshop skills, so I took the liberty of trying to colour correct them a bit, I hope you don't mind. The first one I think looks pretty decent, the second one I couldn't do much. Do you just have a point and shoot? There might be an option for white balance (you'd have to check the manual) and if so instead of using the auto wb if you changed it to tungsten or fluorescent (depending on the lighting in your house) you might find you get better pictures. Some cameras also have auto settings for indoor or flash pictures which might also work better than just having it on auto. (Like there's portrait, sports, sometimes flash or indoor, etc.)

They're pretty grainy because the originals are so small.

James & Jessi McCalvy said...

Was there anything left of his cocoon?

Sarah said...

Lindsay, thank you! I've added your links to my post. I am very glad to have the prettier, much more clear pictures.

Jessi, I'm glad you asked that - it slipped my mind to even look, so I went back and looked and added that to my post. I would have thought of it in a few weeks and been kicking myself.

5 orange potatoes said...

Sarah, how cool this is! It looks like a kind of sphinx or hawk moth. Really beautiful. We find the butterflies, but we would LOVE to find super cool moth caterpillars like that one. We get excited about moths over here too. Thanks so much for sharing this.

Lisa ;)

Sarah said...

Hey Sarah, while I was out in the garden today, I found a HUGE caterpillar. I made a home for it in an old gallon milk jug.
It was on my tomato plants so I gathered up some dirt and tomato stems and put it all in there.
I've never done this before.
Help? :)

Sarah said...

Sarah, I would put some soil in the bottom of the milk jug along with the tomato leaves. You'll have to keep the soil a bit moist and replace the tomato leaves every day or so. Find some twigs and put them in there so that the caterpillar has somewhere to build a cocoon.

I say to put soil in there because my caterpillar didn't want the twigs, he wanted to build his cocoon in the soil (which makes sense as the cocoon was brown). Make sure the soil doesn't dry out and he doesn't get hungry and isn't able to climb out.

That's all we did!

This is the caterpillar identification webpage I found that was the best - mine still wasn't on there, though. See if yours is! I want to hear how it goes for you!

shauna thomas said...

we just found the same caterpillar and your post helped us identify it! thank you! it's a white lined sphinx moth.