Thursday, May 21, 2009

Soggy cereal and a caterpillar transformation!

Wow, talk about good luck! Kenny took the day off today so we can go look at laptop computers to start "Plan B" in my teaching career. It was fortunate that he was here because the following photos and movies would not have happened had I been here alone. (I am putting both still photos and the movie clips on here because some computers don't have the capability to show the movies.) I was just sitting down to eat breakfast when I noticed one of the 3 Monarch caterpillars I've been raising was getting close to its last molt. The whiplashes (antennae) had shriveled and curled and the caterpillar was beginning to stretch and bend. So, I tied the critter cage lid to the curtain rod to give me easy access to the event. I grabbed my little Olympus pocket camera for the movies (naturally, the good movie camera had a dead battery!) and my Nikon with the macro lens for the still shots. As I was eating my cereal I nearly choked as I yelled, "It's starting to happen!" to Kenny. I started filming as quickly as I could.
It is amazing how quickly the process of shedding the skin happens, within 5 minutes the caterpillar had become a pupa, in the case of a butterfly, it is called a chrysalis. Metamorphosis means "change shape", the metamorphic cycle takes about 1 month from egg to butterfly. I have shown the egg and various stages of the caterpillar in earlier blogs. When Kenny came over to the window I quickly handed him the camera and I began snapping away with my DSLR. The skin began to slide upwards and the chrysalis wriggled to hasten the process. You'll notice my camera's flash in the movies, I was determined not to miss this opportunity! Although I've been raising these beautiful caterpillars for 23 years, I haven't been able to catch this on my camera.

Here you can see the head, shriveled whiplash, and legs of the skin shortly before being discarded.

Unfortunately, we missed the skin popping off. Kenny had to take short clips of the action because long movies won't download on this blog.
The final photo shows the chrysalis a minute or two after the skin popped off. The yellow stripes that showed through the skin are still visible and the dull, flat place to the left is the area where the wings will develop. The butterfly comes out of the chrysalis head down then flips over to pump the fluid from its abdomen into the wings. This is a remarkable event that I wanted to share! I will try to get lucky again to catch the butterfly emerging in 10 days or so. :) I also have a chrysalis from yesterday and one more caterpillar in the cage, so maybe with 3 I'll have a chance.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Caterpillars and a funny moth story

I have 2 photos of Monarch butterfly caterpillars in different phases. The first photo is of a small one that had just molted; the face piece and the discarded skin are visible. Surprisingly, the caterpillars eat their molted skin, it is good protein that they don't want to waste! They don't seem to eat the face pieces. This little guy was less than 1/2" long.
The second photo is of this caterpillar a few days later, it had grown considerably. When I took the critter cage out to clean it and get some more milkweed, the caterpillar rolled up into its defensive position. Note the interesting color patterns of the skin.

This past Sunday Kenny and I stopped at the grocery store. I noticed a cute little girl, named Rylee about 4 years old, carrying a large plastic jar. I asked what she had in it and her mother said they had been raising Tent caterpillars the past few weeks. The moths had just come out of their coccoons and were resting on the side of the jar. I asked if I could take a photo of them for my website. Fortunately, I had my little pocket camera in my purse, I can get pretty good close-up photos with it. The color is a bit off, fluorescent lights do bad things to pictures! I told them I once took a critter box with Monarch caterpillars into Kroger grocery store because it was too hot to leave them in the car! No one ever knew! :) It thrills me to see young kids so interested in nature and parents who encourge that interest! This moth is most likely a male due to the large, feathery antennae.

Today was a difficult day at school. I made the announcement on our school TV station that today was my last day and I would not be returning next year. This was the first time the kids had heard the news. Even though it has been a month since I decided not to return (because of losing my room to be made into a new 4th grade classroom and pay inequities), it was still very hard knowing it was my last day. After being there 13 years, I feel like I'm losing a lot. The kids were so supportive giving me hugs and notes. One note from a first grader really touched me, it was decorated with a butterfly, a caterpillar eating a leaf, and clouds with lightning and rain drops; it read, "Thank you for teaching cool things. I like science so much I want to teach science." That is why I am going to miss being there so much!