Last week I wrote about the experience of finding over 30 caterpillar eggs at once, when typically I only find a few. So I thought I’d post an update on how they are doing.
As far as I can tell, all of the eggs hatched. It’s hard to say for sure because in the two days after the initial finding, I found 5 more eggs, and then shortly after that, two baby caterpillars, like the ones in the photo above. So honestly I’ve lost count. Suffice to say that there are many, many caterpillars crawling around and eating like crazy!
When they’re this small, they are mostly black with a band of white around their middle. This is actually a form of camouflage, as it makes them look a bit like bird poop. Yes, bird poop mimicry is actually a thing! They keep eating and growing until they need to shed their skin to get larger. They look a little different in this next phase, or instar, besides the obvious part of being bigger.
I keep them in a plastic container until they reach the third instar, at which point I move them to a bigger enclosure where I can provide more food for them. It’s important to keep them contained, because they do like to wander!
Last night I moved a lot of them to the larger container, but there were a few that had wandered away from the food, and were just hanging out motionless. Usually if you place a bit of food in front of them, they crawl on top and start eating, but not these caterpillars – they weren’t interested.
In the morning, though, I checked in on these stragglers, and saw this:
The dark, crumpled-up bit on the left is the old skin from its previous instar. The new, much bigger third instar caterpillar emerged by attaching the back section of its body to the surface with some silk, splitting the skin at the head, and then crawling forward, leaving the old skin behind. A short while later it definitely was interested in the sprig of parsley I placed in front of it, so once it was aboard, I transferred that sprig and its passenger to the larger enclosure. There they’ll continue to eat and poop for a few days, until an internal trigger tells them it’s time to move on…