My oldest is completely bonkers, plumb over the moon, about moths and butterflies.
He keeps copious notes about their habits and spouts names (Zebra Heliconian! Eastern Tiger Swallowtail! Great Purple Hairstreak!), like nobody's business.
Up to now, he has always thought he'd grow up to be a farmer, but now he's thinking that his farm should include a native wildflower area and butterfly preserve.
He's also been looking into how entomologists make their living too. After some careful thought, he tells us that he's particularly interested in one day helping to research ways to restore native vegetation to urban areas, and helping farmers to use natural farming methods that don't harm beneficial insects.
Can I just tell you how much I love this kid?
He's a mean karate machine with a heart full of butterflies, a love for the land, and he makes a smokin' omelet too.
Anyhow, I'm hear to tell you about the butterflies, not the kid who loves 'em right?
My man has been saving his money for thrifted fish tanks and native plants, all in the name of the butterflies. He likes to bring the caterpillars in to raise them to maturity, not just because it's fun to watch, but also because then they can develop without fear of predatory birds, wasps and the like.
In this tank he has a pupating White-lined Sphinx Moth (in the jar in the top left corner of the tank), a mystery moth (also in the jar) and 5 Gulf Fritillaries (gifted to him by a very sweet white-haired older gentleman that is also a little butterfly crazy).
For the love of the fritillaries, my young man called half a dozen nurseries until we found one that carried Passion Vine.
Who knew that following your kids passion led to having passionflowers in your garden!
Over the last few days we had the awesome privilege of seeing these fellas grow fat, and go into their chrysalides. This weekend the very first emerged. Take a look:
As potentially pokey as they look, they are harmless. Their little spikes don't hurt at all.
After they are sufficiently fattened, they attach their rumps to the top of the cage with silken threads and hang in a "J" formation. They begin to swell a bit, and two sections behind their heads turn white and bulge with fluid. See the white parts, just behind the head, in the hook of the "J" ?
In a matter of hours, they look like a gnarled, wilted leaf. Brilliant camouflage, right?
In a week and half to two weeks, those frightening looking caterpillars emerge lovely and delicate.
We like their undersides best. All those large white spots are not white at all. They are metallic silver! They catch the light and flash as the butterfly flies. Isn't that neat?
This fella's siblings are all still safely tucked away in their chrysalides... for now.
My little man has been so happy to witness the process, but was a bit bummed that he had no caterpillars left.
That is until the parsley that he planted just to attract Black Swallowtails paid off... six wee caterpillars are now chomping away in the tank once more!
We found this little guy on our wood pile a few days ago. At first we thought he was a woolly bear caterpillar that would turn into a Tiger Moth. But upon further research, we found that there are many, many kinds of tiger moths. And this one is the caterpillar to a Giant Leopard Moth. The two caterpillars are very similar. However the woolly bear has orange or red bristles on his front and back ends. Leopard moth caterpillars look solid black, but have red stripes on their bodies that can only bee seen when they roll up...usually after you have disturbed them.
Right now our little caterpillar is dining on lots of dandelion leaves and a few violet leaves and flowers. Eventually, after eating all he can, he will leave his exoskeleton behind and enter the pupa stage for a few weeks. And will finally emerge as a Giant Leopard Moth. The Hilton Pond Center has a great description of the life cycle of the Giant Leopard Moth.
After holding the guy for quite some time, we read that we probably shouldn't have. We learned you should always try to use a stick or a piece of wood to hold bristly caterpillars as some people get a rash from them. Oops! Luckily this little guy is not of the dangerous variety and is considered fairly friendly.
Last year we had several of these caterpillars and even got to watch the mama moth lay her beautiful pale green eggs. So, who knows. Maybe this is one of the babies come back to visit us. We like to think about our caterpillars and moths (and butterflies) as friends here. And really they are.
And thank you to all who played along in our Boomerang! giveaway. It is always fun finding new people who share in our love of nature. The three lucky winners of the Boomerang! free episode giveaway are:
Cristie Baron - Episode 8 Annie Oakley....My daughter is very into horses and think she would find her lots of fun!
Emily - Oh there are way too many! I must admit that much like some of the other commenters, I am a "start from the beginning" kind of gal! One of my boys, however, would love to start with the episode about robotics - #2, I think.
Brittany - I'd have to go with episide #6 because who doesn't love Dr. Seuss? And my 4 year old is obsessed with China right now.
If you all would please send an email to Dave of Boomerang! with "magnifying glasswinner" in the title of the email and Dave will reply back with the download information.
One of my guys in particular has gone completely bonkers over it all, so he was over the moon when we gifted him with his own insect stretching board for his birthday.
Its purpose is to dry butterflies and moths in an open-winged position before they are identified and pinned in a collection box.
It's just a little wooden board with strips of cork glued to it. The strips were cut from 12x12 squares that we found in the office supply section of our local discount store.
There's a small space in between each strip. The body of the insect sits in the space, and the wings are held back by small lengths of cardstock, then carefully pinned.
We made one pair of cork strips slightly farther apart than the first set, and doubled the thickness to accommodate full figured moths.
In a few days, the insect will be dry and ready for the box.
A few more tips for the butterfly collector:
1) Be mindful! Never take more than one of each kind of butterfly or moth. If you catch one that you already have in your collection, let it go so that someone else can have a chance to see it.
2) Hold butterflies and moths by their feet, so that you don't damage their wings
3) If you are going to save a butterfly for preservation, you can use a kill jar, or just put it in a jar in the freezer.
4) If you're looking for an easy, inexpensive way to display your collection, check out the instructions for our homemade boxes here.
5) We highly recommend the Golden Guide to Butterflies and Moths for identification. It's full of great information, but put together in a format that is simple and appealing to young naturalists. It's also just the right size to slip in a field pack when you're headed outdoors!
6) Also, in an act of shameless self promotion - the April issue of our Book of Days also contains a lot of great information for young lepidopterologists. It has directions for making nets, information on the differences between moths and butterflies, charts to help identify your finds, lists of butterfly resources, as well as tips on finding and rearing caterpillars. We hope you'll check it out!
Our Texan friends are not the only ones enjoying butterflies as of late!
Saturday here in Virginia was beautiful. After several weeks of cold and wet, sometimes snowy, weather the sun was out. The breeze was warm and Spring was in the air.
While cleaning up a bit outside, Wyatt found the bug catcher that had contained two caterpillar chrysalises.
A little background for you...Last summer was deemed "summer of the caterpillars" as we studied eight different caterpillar species throughout the summer. We had the best time collecting swallowtail caterpillar eggs off of our parsley plants and watching them transform through their entire life cycle ending as butterflies.
We had many that made it all the way to the butterfly stage. But by mid-September, we had two caterpillars that never came out of their chrysalis stages. Our hypothesis was that the days were getting cooler and the caterpillars just "knew" that time was not on their side. So they decided to over winter...at least that was what we were hoping.
OK, back to the story.
With much excitement, Wyatt exclaimed that there was a butterfly in the bug catcher! I had moved the bug catcher within the last few days, so I knew the butterfly had emerged very recently. But we still do not now exactly how long she was waiting for someone to let her out...poor dear.
Yes, we did indeed find out she is a she. The males of the species have more blue and black and less yellow on their wings according to this site.
We were guessing she was pretty hungry not having eaten for the past 5-6 months, so we offered her some tangerine from the kitchen. She seemed to enjoy it, which gave us a great amount of time to see her use her proboscis (the spiraly tongue butterflies use to sip nectar). See the above photo larger for a better view of the proboscis.
We think proboscis just might be the coolest word in the English language and have found lots of ways to work it into our daily conversation. "Mom, I can't eat my peas. My proboscis isn't working." You get the idea.
Needless to say, we are thrilled that our little experiment worked...and completely amazed and babbled by nature once again.
On our latest walkabout, we came across a very interesting find.
We found this lovely Pink Edged Sulphur butterfly.
We looked it up and found two clues that told us this little guy is not from around these parts.
First, Pink-Edged Sulpher caterpillars feed mostly on blueberries. Blueberries do not grow well in our area though.
We also found a map showing the range of Pink Edged Sulphers. Turns out that they are very common in Canada, and the northernmost part of the United States... FAR from Texas.
Our best guess is that this guy has been wintering here, or even farther south, and is slowly making his way north.
Butterflies only live for a few months at best though. So, our theory is that he was on his way north,to where blueberries grow. Perhaps he would have mated there, and eventually his mate's eggs would have hatched a new batch of Pink Edged Sulphers. Those babies would have their own children, then those babies would have children.
Our Pink Edged Sulpher's great great grand children would then head back this way next fall!
This was all very exciting to us because we had not thought about migration in this way before. The boys know that some species "go south" for the winter and then "go north" for the summer, but they had never really considered how our home, Texas, fit into that plan.
It seems that for the most part, Texas is either a winter destination or a stop along the journey for northern species.
There's also a really fabulous resource for learning about migration through ongoing experiments and observations at Journey North. We can't wait to learn all about the Journey North through their activities!
I have a host of vintage nature craft books that I have picked up at thrift stores, estate sales and on ebay. And one of the books the boys and I keep coming back to is The Golden Book of Nature Crafts. We love, love this book. I have had it for a few years, but ever since flipping through it for the first time I have wanted to try one particular project...catching a spider web.
How To Catch A Spider's Web
Black construction paper (or black cardstock) Spray adhesive White spray paint (optional) Scissors
1. Locate a clean spider's web (preferrably one in which the spider has vacated) 2. Spray the black paper with spray adhesive 3. Spray the spider's web from each angle with white spray paint, careful not to get any spray on nearby leaves, fence, etc. This may require the use of some newspaper as a dropcloth. 4. With the black paper behind the web, slowly bring the paper towards you until it touches the web. Then with the web on the paper, carefully cut the guy lines holding the web in place. 5. Document with chalk or pencil on the back of the paper the date and where the web was collected.
Charlotte, our friendly summer spider, finally disappeared from her web. The boys were sad, but this project provided the perfect memorial to a spider that gave us a whole summer's worth of amazement.
Nature— the sublime, the harsh, and the beautiful— offers something that the street or gated community or computer game cannot. Nature presents the young with something so much greater than they are; it offers an environment where they can easily contemplate infinity and eternity. —Richard Louv