Tag Archives: Monarch Caterpillar

THE TRAVELING TERRARIUM

On Tuesday morning, October 4th, I’ll be at the Corinthian Yacht Club in Marblehead to give my lecture on “The Pollinator Garden,” at 9:30am. I hope to see you there!

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No, That is Not a Monarch Caterpillar on Your Carrot Plant

By far the most popular post on my Kim Smith Designs website is titled “No, That is Not a Monarch Caterpillar on Your Parsley Plant.” It has been the most trafficked post for several years, if you can believe it, and here is why.

Last fall, almost exactly to the day, through my office window I heard the sound of sweet voices on our front porch, well after dark, and wondered what our neighborhood dog walkers were doing out so late. It wasn’t dog walkers, but our neighbor Sharon and her son Treely, wondering what to do with what they thought was a Monarch caterpillar they had found in their garden. I sent them on their way with one of our terrariums and instructions on how to care for their little Black Swallowtail caterpillar.

Treely’s Black Swallowtail caterpillar turned into a chrysalis (in other words, pupated), spent the winter in the terrarium in a sheltered spot outdoors, and then emerged right on schedule this past spring. The Dowds returned the terrarium as it was needed later in the summer for our Cecropia Moth caterpillars.

Imagine how sweetly funny to get a call from my friend Michelle, wondering what to do with their newly discovered Monarch caterpillar. My first question to Michelle was did she find the caterpillar on her milkweed. No, she reported, it was found on carrot foliage. Michelle and her children, Meadow and Atticus, along with friend Sabine, stopped by this afternoon to learn about how to take care of their tiny little Black Swallowtail caterpillar and I sent them on their way with the ‘traveling terrarium.’

If you find a caterpillar in your garden, the first clue to identifying is to see on what food plant they are munching. Caterpillars that are actively feeding are usually only found on their larval host plant(s), the plant they have developed a distinctive coevolutionary relationship with over millennia. For example, female Monarch butterfly caterpillars deposit their eggs only on members of the milkweed family. Black Swallowtail caterpillars eat the foliage only from plants in the carrot family, which includes carrots, parsley, dill, fennel, parsnips, and Queen Anne’s lace. You may have noticed if ever weeding Queen Anne’s lace that the root looks identical in shape to a carrot, only it is white.

Chances are, you will never find a Black Swallowtail caterpillar on you milkweed plants and conversely, you will never find a Monarch caterpillar on your carrot plant (or parsley, dill, or fennel).

I am excited to hear from Michelle and the kids how their little caterpillar is developing over the next few weeks!

 

CRAZY ABOUT CATERPILLARS!

Atticus Monarch caterpillar ©Kim Smith 2015An integral part of the Monarch film is to show the connection between wildflowers and caterpillars. Emma, Pilar, Atticus, and Meadow were fantastic with the caterpillars and a huge help with the project. We are so blessed to know these bright and curious kids, and their incredible parents!Pilar Atticus Meadow Emma monarch caterpillar ©Kim Smith 2015

Pilar Atticus Meadow Emma monarch caterpillars ©Kim Smith 2015Thank you Pilar, Atticus, Meadow, and Emma for all your help filmmaking!

Meadow monarch caterpillar ©Kim Smith 2015 copy

Newly Molted Caterpillar

Butterfly caterpillars molt four or five times as they grow. Each different caterpillar stage is called an instar.

In the photo below you can see the caterpillar’s crumpled discarded exoskeleton.

Molting Monarch Caterpillar

The caterpillar first grows a new skin under its old skin. Then the caterpillar draws its head out of its head capsule. Occasionally it will need to use its front legs to help remove the head capsule. Next the caterpillar crawls out of its old skin. This is called molting. After the molt and while the new skin is soft and pliable the caterpillar swallows a lot of air, which expands the body. As the new exoskeleton hardens it lets out the air to allow room to grow.

Molting takes a great deal of energy and after each molt, the caterpillar rests quietly for a brief period before then eating its discarded exoskeleton.