Happy Spring to everyone! This is the time of year when everything is greening up and warming up (well, except for our recent cold spell. It’s another “weird weather” year). And every day that I can, I look for new spring arrivals wherever I am, and note the year’s “firsts” – the first spring Purple Martin; the first hummingbird, the first egg-laying butterflies, etc. I’ve already seen all of the above and much more, and I hope you have noticed too.
Last July I wrote in my blog about some of the butterfly and moth caterpillars that I have raised and released. Do you remember this guy?
It is a Cecropia Moth caterpillar that I caged and fed until it went into its cocoon stage. The cocoon was very cool; the caterpillar spun a silk cocoon around itself and attached itself to the wall of the screen cage it was in. I left the cage on my front porch all fall and winter so the cocoon would mature naturally under its normal timetable and normal temperatures (If you bring chrysalis or cocoons indoors into warmer temperatures, the butterfly or moth will probably emerge too early, before nature is providing its food sources, and while it is still too cold outdoors for its survival).
I expected my moth to emerge around June, but it made its grand entrance into the world on April 21, perhaps earlier than usual because of the warm temperatures we had in the early spring. Here’s the moth, perched on my hand:
Isn’t he (she?) magnificent! The Cecropia in the largest moth in North America, and as you can see, he was almost as big as my hand. And what a gorgeous pattern and vivid colors! Other moth species that I have raised have been very placid the day they emerged, not moving much, and easily handled. Not this one; he was feisty from the get go and not happy to have me admiring him. So right after I took my photo, I placed him in my Wild Cherry Tree, where he quickly maneuvered up the branches to a spot where he roosted for the rest of the day. What a thrill!
On the same day that our largest moth appeared, I found the tiniest of butterfly life on my Tulip Poplar tree. I was checking it for Tiger Swallowtail caterpillars because I had seen some adults in my yard the week before and guessed that they were laying eggs (the Tulip Poplar is one of the Tiger Swallowtail's host plants). I chanced upon a caterpillar that had just barely hatched from its egg. I was not able to get a good photo with my camera equipment, but this photo does show you what it looked like:
The first thing a caterpillar does when it emerges from its egg is to eat the egg for instant nutrition. That’s what this guy is doing. Consider that this egg is substantially smaller than the head of a pin, and you’ll get some perspective on how tiny the caterpillar is. (He reminds me of the kid in that car commercial, wearing a Darth Vader costume and trying to perform some hocus pocus on the car). Here's what it will look like in about a month:
I’ve already seen Red Admirals laying eggs on my False Nettle, Palamedes Swallowtails laying eggs on my Red Bay, Black Swallowtails laying on my Fennel, Monarchs on my Milkweed, more Tiger Swallowtails on the Tulip Poplar and the Sweet Bay Magnolia, and American Ladies on my Pearly Everlasting. It should be a good year for raising butterflies, and I’ll keep you posted!