Our new ‘pet’ is smaller than a dime — and very, very hungry


As you can see, this Monarch caterpillar has an enormous appetite for such a tiny creature!

Here’s the first tangible benefit of the kids’ getting assigned I-pads for school this year: We’ve been having all kinds of fun with the macro setting on their cameras, such as this shot of a monarch caterpillar that hatched on Monday.

At the time, we couldn’t even see it without a magnifying glass. By Tuesday night, when we took this shot (next to a dime for scale), it had grown enough to be visible to the naked eye. And it had gobbled enough milkweed to make a very visible hole in the leaf.

It’s really stunning how fast these guys grow, which makes sense when you consider their reputation as voracious eaters. (Remember “The Hungry, Hungry Caterpillar?”) By this guy’s second week, his poop will be larger than he is now.

We were so taken by the last caterpillar we raised that we toted his jar along on our trip to Tennessee. He survived the trip, and a close call  later when we found his chrysalis lying on the bottom of the jar. (Butterflies need at least 3 inches of hanging space for their wings to develop.)

The Purdue extension agent who led the workshop we attended in back in June offered a great troubleshooting tip: Securing the chrysalis to the netting on the top of the jar with a hot glue gun, being careful to let the glue only come in contact with the black tip sticking out of the chrysalis.

Unfortunately, the butterfly emerged from its chrysalis while we were away for a few hours. It fell to the bottom of the jar, and by the time we found it, its wings were damaged. We fed it sugar water for a couple of days, and it flapped its poor stunted wings mightily at one point attempting to take off, but it simply couldn’t fly and it didn’t survive.

We have higher hopes for this caterpillar, in part because we now know that you should leave a stick or something in the jar after the chrysalis forms. We’d cleaned the jar out – you’d be amazed how much poop a caterpillar generates – and so there was nothing to break the butterfly’s fall.

We got our first Monarch caterpillar at the butterfly workshop we attended. This one came from a leaf off a milkweed plant. A few weeks ago we couldn’t have told you what a milkweed plant looks like. Now we notice them everywhere we go. Turns out we had a couple of these plants growing on our property and didn’t even realize it.

A milkweed plant. A telltale identifier: The milky sap that oozes out when you break off a piece.

A milkweed plant. A telltale identifier: The milky sap that oozes out when you break off a piece.

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4 Responses to Our new ‘pet’ is smaller than a dime — and very, very hungry

  1. This is great! I planted some milkweed to encourage the monarchs since there numbers are so low. I was told they like to eat parsley and fennell so to plant that nearby. 🙂

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