September 5, 2013

Caterpillar Hunting

Have you ever been caterpillar hunting?  My sister (who taught kindergarten at the time) always went caterpillar hunting to find caterpillars for her classroom.  A few summers ago, she invited us to come along.  It was so much fun!  Maybe I'm easily entrained, but it's kind of like a little treasure hunt, you're out in the beautiful late summer evening, and watching the process from caterpillar to butterfly is stunning!

So, have I convinced you?  If I have, then here's what you need to know.

We've always gone a week before or after Labor Day weekend.  I don't know if that's the best time (I did just read that August is a good month to find them), but we do find them then.

You'll be looking on milkweed plants (you'll see it in the first picture of this post really well).  Once you know what you're looking for, you'll see it just about everywhere.  We see it on the side of the road a lot, and down by the river where we live.  

Once you find the milkweed, just start looking.  You're looking for a yellow and black stripped caterpillar (see the last picture in this post).  These little guys will turn into Monarchs when all is said and done.  They often hide under the leaves, or in little crevices.  It may take some real hunting, but be patient.  Some years its easy to find a bunch, and other years, not much.  Last night, we only found one teeny, tiny little guy.  But one was enough.  We might keep looking at a few other locations to see what we can find, but we're happy with one for now.  

Take a large jar with holes in the lid, and a baggie or container to collect extra milkweed.  You'll need to keep feeding your caterpillar.  As you know, their only job is to eat!  The milkweed in your jar may go bad after a few days, so collect fresh milkweed to replace it.  It's not uncommon to see me on the side of the road during the first weeks of September collecting fresh milkweed.  Lucky for me, I discovered my in-laws have it right in their backyard.  I don't have to go far to find it this year, which is good because our little guy is going to go through a lot of milkweed before he's big enough to pupate.  And beware of the sticky "milk".  It's a mess!

So, here's our little caterpillar from last night's hunt.  Meet Michael Longbottom.  My boys have very unique taste in pet names (check out our female chicken names here).  He's been in his jar since last night, just eating and eating.  He's absolutely adorable!   

If you'd like more information about caring for your Monarch, I found some great sites that can give you all the info you'll need.  Click here and here to learn more.

Now, I'm no expert, but here's my experiences with the Monarchs.
If you find a larger caterpillar it won't take long for it to pupate.   A few days after capturing it, you'll probably see your caterpillar attach itself to the lid, hang upside down, and then shed its skin one last time.  These caterpillars make a chrysalis, not a cocoon.  They'll stay inside for 9-14 days, and then the chrysalis will turn clear and you'll see the black and orange wings all folded up inside.  It's so cool!  When the butterfly emerges, it will need to dry its wings.  You can leave the butterfly in the jar, or unscrew the lid and set it outside.  It will take about an hour for it to be ready to fly.  We sat and watched our first butterfly, but it was taking so long we just kept checking every so often.  Soon, those beautiful wings will pump, and your butterfly will be air born.  It's miraculous!

Thanks so much for stopping by!  I hope you found a little something worth your time.

Linking up to these parties & Savvy Southern Style.

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  1. Such a beautiful caterpillar and butterfly! A few years ago we did the same thing, except we used the old tomato hornworm! He was big and fat, so we only had to feed it for a couple of days. These caterpillars burrow into the ground to make their pupa, so you have to provide a couple of inches of dirt on the bottom of the jar! Luckily, ours dug right next to the glass, so we got to see him during his pupa state. I don't remember how long it was, but we actually got to see him come out of his dirt hole, pump his wings and then (yes, we did) fly away!

    1. I have seen the tomato hornworms, but have never tried capturing them. We'll have to try those next time. Thanks so much for visiting, Vickie! Come back anytime, and enjoy your weekend!

  2. Fun! Thanks for all the tips. We've been finding lots of little green caterpillars in our backyard garden. My daughter's too young right now for the "watching them turn into butterflies" stage, but it'd be great to do for next year!

    1. It really is quite magical! We ended up finding two more big Monarch caterpillars the next day, and one is already hanging upside down. It will be fun to do when your daughter's a bit older. Thanks so much for stopping! Have a wonderful day, Jocelyn!

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