Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Caterpillar Update - Black Swallowtail

After we unexpectedly found our sweet new friend crawling on some carrot tops from the garden, we made him a nice home for observation out of a clear cookie jar.  The boys really enjoyed playing with this Black Swallowtail caterpillar simply for one reason,  the orange "horns" that show themselves when the caterpillar is threatened.  It then releases quite an interesting smell clearly saying "stay away."  I guess that the odor makes it unpalatable for birds.

I was very careful to clean out the caterpillar droppings and place in fresh carrot tops and some Queen Anne's Lace.  We had just finished reading the classic  The Cricket in Time by Square by George Sheldon.  In the book there is much talk about what the cricket prefers to eat.  This made the boys acutely aware of our caterpillar's preferences.  After some quick research it was clear that carrot tops, Queen Anne's lace and dill are all favorites.  The boys had lost interest after a few days.  I was hoping that we would be able to watch the life cycle unfold before our very eyes.

One morning I looked into the jar and it seemed as though the poor thing had died.  It was smaller than it had been-  almost dehydrated looking.  It was sitting on a branch that we had put in.  There were no droppings.  I was concerned that I had not provided water.  The greens had some dampness which I thought was enough.  I then decided to drop a few water droplets near him to see if there was any response.  It did move slightly.  I of course did all of this without calling it to the boy's attention because I wasn't sure how they would react.  I noticed a slight webbing attachment that was on the stick near the caterpillar.  It was a bit of hope that it was going to go into a chrysalis.

A few days passed and nothing.  It did not move.  It did not eat.  I asked my husband to take a look and see if it had died.  He pretty much confirmed that it had.  I decided to research how long it would take to turn into a chrysalis, if indeed it was going to.  I referred to my Handbook of Nature Study by Anna Botsford Comstock.  It filled in a lot of detail about what to expect and showed a picture of the chrysalis.

My husband brought the jar over to me to take a look.  I was delighted by what I saw.   It was the chrysalis!  He thought that it was all dried up, but in fact it had changed.  Here is what it looks like.

I showed to the boys with great excitement.  They were not that impressed.  T said to me, "A butterfly won't come out of there Mama..."  I realized there is no convincing.    How many times did I read The Very Hungry Caterpillar  when they were smaller?  It seemed like hundreds....they will have to see with there own eyes.

Now that it is autumn, I am not sure if it will be a few weeks or many months before the final transformation.  The weather has turned a bit cold in upstate New York.  I again grew concerned that the habitat we made was not sufficient, as we had it in the house.  So it is now out on our screened porch where it can be in the same cool elements as its peers.

I have decided to hang this chart I found above our science table in hopes that they will indeed see with their own eyes.  We will keep you posted.  

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