Raising buggies for fun and entertainment

by | July 29, 2008 12:00 am

by KATELYN MOORE

For the past few weeks, I’ve had a bit of a science project going on in my office, and I’m not talking about that can of soda I found behind my desk when I rearranged. I’ve had four caterpillars in a large jar on my file cabinet. I found them on the cilantro at my parents’ house, and there were about fifteen when the project started, but apparently Dad, in one of those Dad-moments, had already sprayed the caterpillars with Bug-B-Dead before I got to them. (His excuse was “they were eating the plant!” but its not like we used it anyway…) So from fifteen, the number dwindled to four live ones. Then another decided to take the great nap, so I was down to three.

After a web-search that rivaled the ones I used to do for class in college, I finally found out what kind of bug I was keeping in my office. It was a Papilio polyxenes, or black swallowtail butterfly. You know, the ones with the blue bits that you hardly ever see anymore? Well, these crazy-looking green buggies would turn into one of my favorite butterflies… in theory.

Truthfully, I’ve never raised butterflies before this attempt, as I was always more of a “let’s go catch it!” child. However, I kept cramming bits of my own long-suffering parsley plant into the jar for the caterpillars to munch away on, until one morning I came into work and there were no caterpillars.

Fearing they had escaped their jar and wandered around my office, I searched the jar frantically… Then I looked at the sticks that I had put in there for them to crawl on. Under the bends and twists were three weirdly-shaped capsules: my caterpillars. They had gone into their pupas overnight, and were slowly becoming butterflies.

At this point I could make one of those wonderfully uplifting analogies about caterpillars becoming butterflies, but, honestly, the process of going from one to the other makes the analogies pretty gross. Once inside the pupa, the caterpillars basically liquefy and rebuild themselves completely. Not the process I want to go through to become someone new, I’ll tell you.

So for the past week or so, I’ve had these ugly little pods hanging from sticks in a jar in my office… But Monday morning, that changed. I came in to work to find two very wet and clumsy butterflies flapping around the now too-tiny jar. I hadn’t expected butterflies any time soon, so I had nothing larger to put them in. Thankfully, they had been raising butterflies next door at the library and Mrs. Ann had kept the collapsible bug-keeper, which she so graciously let me borrow until I could procure my own critter-keeper (a ten gallon aquarium, no less!) The third pupa hadn’t done anything, and was looking a little stiff and sad, but I stuck it in the aquarium anyway, because, well, you never know. This turned out to be a good idea, as about halfway through my day, I looked over to see the little pod bebopping around on the stick and POP! Out came a wet, scraggly-looking butterfly, who quickly attached herself to the roof of the aquarium where the light is and dried off.

After a little more research, I found out that I am now the proud owner of three beautiful female black swallowtailed butterflies. I’m feeding them with cottonballs soaked in hummingbird food and snippets from the lantana that landscapes the front of the building, and I hope to keep them around for a little while. So if you’re in the office in the next few weeks, feel free to pop by and have a look.

And after the butterflies are gone, I’m thinking of trying my hand with frogs… I do have this nice, new aquarium…

Katelyn can be reached at Katelyn@forest-blade.com.

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