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Butterflies, Moths & Sphinx Moths

Butterflies

My kids are always finding caterpillars, chrysalis’ and pupae to hatch and see what exciting creatures they’ll become.  Last summer one of the kids got one of those kits that comes with the eggs that you get to hatch out for a gift.  Those were Painted Lady butterflies and the kids were a bit disappointed that those were the only caterpillars you could get.  They were pretty and neat to watch, but were a little plain as caterpillars and crysalis’, and not near as exciting as many of the other creatures the kids were used to.

painted lady butterfly

painted lady butterfly

 

painted lady butterfly

painted lady butterfly

painted lady butterfly

One of the things I really didn’t like was how messy they were – all the extra stuff from their wing development comes out with them as they hatch and looks like blood.

As it turned out though, the little netted tent proved to be extremely valuable for the dozen or so monarch caterpillars that the kids collected later in the summer.  The monarchs were amazing, beautiful and very exciting to observe and release!  The caterpillars are fascinating with their bold black and yellow stripes, with their antennae and big chomping jaws to boot.  Every one they got not only survived, but flourished into a beautiful monarch butterfly in a matter of weeks.  We are blessed with a huge field of milkweed nearby and last summer it was simply filled with caterpillars.

It was also amazing – the kids must have gotten each of the caterpillars at just the right time.  They gathered a few each day for about a week and within just a couple days the milk-weed gobbling caterpillars were beautiful gold spotted, green chrysalis’.  We hung the tent up for a few days and the chrysalis’, one at a time became darker and darker, to the point where you could see their wings inside just before they hatched. (None of them were messy like the Painted Ladies either.) They were a glorious sight to behold from beginning to end!

One of the most wonderful things about getting them from outside was that they didn’t all hatch in the same day – we had 1-2 hatching each day over a few days. That made it really fun to have something so exciting awaiting each day.  A few of them landed on the kids, which they loved, and one even decided to come back inside and get himself caught inside a vase.  We were glad he fell into the vase, it made it much safer and easier to re-release him.  We managed to get him, carefully, back outside, after snapping a picture.

monarch butterfly

monarch butterfly

monarch butterfly

monarch butterfly

monarch butterfly

monarch butterfly

monarch butterfly

monarch butterfly

monarch butterfly

monarch butterfly

 

One of the great things about butterflies is that they grow and hatch during the warm weather, and in one season, so their great for little ones who haven’t quite grasped the concept of time.

Moths

We haven’t done as well with moth cocoons as we would have liked.  When I was younger I hatched one and it was exciting – a great big Cecropia Moth, he was lovely.  I’m thinking that it might be because they may have gotten too warm during the winter when we’ve brought them in.  Moth caterpillars make their cocoons in the fall and winter over, then hatch in the spring in our area.  They seem to need the cold, like blueberry bushes and apple trees.  We even tried keeping them in an part of the house that we thought didn’t get very warm, but apparently it did anyway.  Or it’s possible that it gets to dry.  Either way, next fall, we’re going to keep any that we find in something outside where they can be getting the natural weather conditions.

We have managed to hatch a few, but the ratio isn’t as high on the survival end as I would have liked.  My husband once found a Luna Moth at work and carefully brought him home to us in a small box to see and then we let him go.  It was great for the kids to be able to see one so close.

luna moth homeschool

Sphinx Moths

One fall the girls found one of those pupae that you probably have seen in your garden in the dirt.  We had found an extra big one, so the girls got a small jar, filled it with dirt and we set him aside all winter and left it alone.  By the time spring came along, we’d pretty much forgotten about him, and were worried when we saw the dirt had gotten so dry, but we were in for quite a surprise.  One day, all of the sudden, there was a big, fat, beautiful green moth in the jar, just starting to flutter his wings.  It turned out he was an Oleander Sphinx moth.

Since then we learned that all those pupae that you find in the dirt – they aren’t a butterfly chrysalis, and they aren’t a moth cocoon – they’re Sphinx Moths, aka – Hawk-moths, Hummingbird Moths, Humbugs, etc. and come from the great big, horned caterpillars.

green oleander sphinx moth

green oleander sphinx moth

green oleander sphinx moth

green oleander sphinx moth horned worm

One that we found last summer near the driveway, he looked like he may have gotten partially run over though, was a Hickory Horned Devil caterpillar – Oh, my, what a sight he was!  I’d never seen one before and they are definitely something worth seeing, I don’t remember if I got any pictures of him, but if I find them I’ll put them up.  They turn into a huge Royal Walnut Moth.  I really had wished he was healthier because that would have been something to see!  Hopefully we’ll come across another one soon.

Now that the weather is getting warm again, the kids have already had a plethora of creatures they caught from crayfish, snakes, frogs, toads, insects of all kinds and just today they found themselves a few teeny, tiny Monarch caterpillars – so the excitement, and education for my blossoming naturalists, begins!