Friday, July 11, 2008

Butterflies are Free!

As a family, we've found that there is almost nothing as exciting as picking a milkweed leaf that has a milky white monarch caterpillar egg on it, watching it hatch and become a very, very hungry caterpillar--Eric Carle was not exaggerating.

We only have a few milkweed plants, but they will reseed and we will get more every year.

After we had one caterpillar turn into a butterfly in a little plastic box, we realized that we needed something bigger. My husband built a big butterfly nursery/habitat/enclosure/ranch where the newly hatched caterpillars can feast until they'll climb up the side, attach a pad of sticky silk to the top, hang on, and each turn themselves into a chrysalis.

My daughter is enjoying watching the caterpillars develop almost as much as I am.

Do you know that caterpillars have about 4,000 muscles? Or that they, as other insects do, breathe out of the sides of their bodies?

Do you know what happens when a caterpillar becomes a chrysalis? It melts...basically. Monarchs' bodies dissolve into a protein rich goo where certain cells develop into different butterfly parts until they're fully cooked. And then they come out. Isn't that mind blowingly amazing?! My kids wonder if their little butterfly mind has any memory of their caterpillar existence and we all came to the conclusion that they don't. It made my kids kind of sad, as if when they become adults they'd forget their childhood. Except they won't magically melt at 18 and then all of a sudden know how to balance a check book.

The butterfly emerged!

Here, you see the butterfly resting on the clear shell of its chrysalis.

We all got a chance to carefully hold it.

We put it on the table to rest a little and it clung to the edge.

My kids got a chance to look at it up close.

We let it crawl up on a stick.

Isn't it beautiful? Its black is like velvet and it's antennae are elegant and long.

My son was looking at the butterfly on the stick and got it a little too close to his head. Oops.

We're fairly certain that the nitrogenous waste that dripped down into my son's left eye is not injurious and only had some gross out factor as if it were pee, which it was not. My son and his eye are both OK.

We are really enjoying being able to watch the whole process of transition from egg, caterpillar, chrysalis and then amazing, beautiful butterfly. Right now we have three really big caterpillars and three teeny, tiny ones. I've discovered that I have to have a little separate nursery for the wee ones, because the voracious older ones will eat up all of the leaf, and then I don't know where the little ones are.

I'll do another butterfly post once the three bigger caterpillars become chrysalis and you can see the green gems with tiny gold dots hanging from the top of the butterfly enclosure.

If you can get yourself some milkweed and grow it in your yard, it is an amazing treat to see all of this unfold. In keeping with the compact, it's also good to note that butterflies are free! Both ways...

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