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Just so you know: caterpillars are high maintenance pets! When they were little, all I had to do was put in some fresh branches and change the paper towels every few days. Now, I am lucky if I don’t have to put in MORE branches 12 hours later in the day. (The caterpillars are up to about 4 inches in length).

Getting Big

Getting Big

It’s a good thing that so many wild caterpillars get eaten or we would have denuded trees!

Also, as the caterpillars grow so does the size of their frass (poop). And it’s kinda stinky, which surprised me as it’s just processed plant materials…     I wonder if the frass is good to fertilize the garden?

Frass in one hand and wish in the other....

Frass in one hand and wish in the other....

I have had fun observing my cecropia moth caterpillars grow but I am ready to let them go. Tonight I set free about 10 of them onto our backyard lilac bush. Sadly, many of the ones I let go last week have been eaten but such is they way of things. One fell off (I am guessing) and was found on the ground half eaten by ants.

One thing you must have to raise these guys: patience. You cannot simply pluck them off a branch, as they will hold onto a branch until their little claspers break off (no, I have not done this, but trust me, it can happen). You have to coax them onto another branch or your hand to move them. And they are not very speedy.

A hungry caterpillar can be motivated to move toward a fresh leaf, though. I have no idea how they detect their food source (smell or some version of it??) but they can locate fresh leaves from across one side of the cage and will move rapidly toward them.

Here are some pictures of the cage I came up with: a large, plastic flower pot covered with flexible screen mesh.

            

Also, be sure not to disturb them when they are resting and getting ready to shed their skin. They will jerk their body from side to side if you (or another caterpillar) accidentally bump them. You might be able to see the silk pad they use to anchor themselves to a branch (or the top of the cage, in my case) when they are in this resting phase. They sometimes hold themselves in what I like to call the Mr. Burns pose (a la The Simpsons), with their head extended back and legs curled up together.

Silk pad

Silk pad

 

Excellent!

Excellent!

It’s interesting how many variations there are in their color and shading as they grow bigger. The younger ones are a deep leaf green and then turn yellow green to milky green. Then their knob (hur hur) colors change from red to orange.

Now orange!

Now orange!

 

Big Fella

Big Fella

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Here’s a picture of my latest house guests:

Last month, a presenter we had at the library brought in some cecropia moths she has been rearing. They had mated and the female laid eggs all over the cage. The woman insisted I take some eggs home with me (I think she just wanted to thin out the herd…).

So, I now have a cage full of these caterpillars. As I was changing their branch today, I noticed that two of them are now starting to look very colorful like the late instar. I can’t wait until they are bigger. Although…where I will put them then is anyone’s guess. (Linda, I think I have a present for you…)

A number of them have bit the dust, as I expected a few would. Still, that leaves me with around 30. I have been raising them on lilac, so I’m not sure they will change food sources this late in the game. Frankly, I don’t know a thing about them. There is a great site here with some photos and info, but other sites usually say something like, “look in the guide book to determine food source plants.”

Eventually, i will need to either free them outside so they can pupate or find a really big cage for them to make their cocoons in and then stick it out in the garage for the winter. I think I’ll at least keep one or two (assuming I can get them this far) so I can see them emerge next year. The moths are so big and beautiful!

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