Captivating Caterpillars…

… become “flowers that fly and all but sing.”

It’s not always convenient to observe nature, but it is quite fulfilling!

Early in June, on Graduation Day for Number 1 Son,  as we were cleaning, and preparing food for a small family dinner, GraceNotes burst into the kitchen and announced, “I found a caterpillar on the fennel plant! Bright yellow, with black stripes!  Way cute!  Let’s keep it!”  Who wants to clean anyway?

After a little time spent on the internet looking for advice on caterpillar habitats we assembled a plastic container, floral water tubes, feathery fennel leaves, a stick, a rock and some soil.   We identified our guy as a Black Swallowtail caterpillar,  (Papilio polyxenes asterius Stoll, Order – Lepidoptera) and soon had our little fellow all set up.  Back to work, I thought.

Then she found a second one!  Two caterpillars required an upgrade!  We moved them into a larger space, with additional amenities, and somehow managed to get cleaned up and ready for the other big event!  (Dinner was late…)

Each caterpillar received a name, Reginald and Bertie.  The elder child enjoyed this as much as the younger!  We took lots of photos, and put fresh fennel in each day.  We cleaned out prodigious amounts of waste.  (And commented with chagrin that Eric Carle did NOT discuss this aspect of caterpillar behavior in the Very Hungry Caterpillar…)  We worried over them when we found a big bunch of gook, and they  sort of curled up.  Then  sighed with relief when we discovered that caterpillars empty their gut prior to forming their chrysalis.

We marveled at each chrysalis and watched the shape shift every so slightly, and the color deepen.  We watched them each day, and even worried that they were too dry, or too warm, or too air-conditioned.  And then one day…we woke up to butterflies!

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We placed them back on the fennel plant where they stayed for an hour or so before they fluttered off in the breeze!  We couldn’t help but marvel at seeing with our own eyes what we have learned intellectually, especially after viewing Metamorphosis: The Beauty and Design of  Butterflies, by Illustra Media during the Easter time frame.

For more ideas about Nature Study we recommend the blog Handbook of Nature Study,  and to see how others enjoy science in their homeschool visit The Home School Scientist!

Blue-Butterfly Dayby Robert Frost
It is blue-butterfly day here in spring,
And with these sky-flakes down in flurry on flurry
There is more unmixed color on the wing
Than flowers will show for days unless they hurry.
But these are flowers that fly and all but sing:
And now from having ridden out desire
They lie closed over in the wind and cling
Where wheels have freshly sliced the April mire.

9 thoughts on “Captivating Caterpillars…

  1. What”s going here is …we just had sugar ice cream cones after dinner. Earlier I helped with a wedding rehearsal. The bridal party is entering the church as couples to the melody of a singer and his gitar.

  2. What a wonderful nature study! I have passion fruit flowers planted in my yard in hopes of experiencing this very thing with the fritillary butterfly. I am planting fennel, too, but I didn’t know it attracted butterflies. Now that I do know it, I will have to leave some of it for them, too.

    1. Thanks Marci and Cristy! I’d love to say I planned it – but I didn’t! I think you can count on some Black Swallowtails on the fennel! What’s funny is that we started out with dill in that spot probably 8 years ago, somewhere in the last two years fennel started growing. Go figure – Nature at work!

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