Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Rick James & Charlie Murphy: The Final Chapter...

Rick James emerged from his chrysalis yesterday morning.

I was so happy to have another healthy butterfly, but admittedly I was a bit sad, too. I had expected Rick and Charlie to emerge at almost the same time (given their past), but Charlie's chrysalis was still quite green and had at least another day to go.

I waited for Rick James' wings to unfold fully, and even though he wasn't flapping around with the same anxious flutter as Eddie Murphy, I figured I had better get him outside so he could start eating right away. I kept him fed as a caterpillar- and certainly didn't want to starve him as a butterfly!

Besides making friends with this bee, Rick James didn't... do much. He had a double-proboscis going, which worried me a little, until I read that that's normal until the two tubes fuse together.

It was a nice, sunny day, so I left him to feed on the milkweed and figured I'd come back and check on him later.

About half an hour passed, and he was still there, in the same place.

I waited another hour- same thing.

He stayed on the plant for about 4 hours, and it started looking stormy outside... so back in he came.
I set up some flowers in a vase, hoping if he needed to eat, they would suffice.

It occurred to me that maybe... possibly?... could he be waiting for Charlie Murphy?

He spent the rest of the night in the screened cage hanging on one of the walls. Not flying around. Not even so much as attempting to fly around.

This morning, Charlie Murphy's chrysalis was very, very transparent. I knew he would be coming out today!
Rick James was still just sitting there, hanging on the wall.

After a trip down to Maryland and into the office for work, I returned home and when I went upstairs, I heard the sound of wings flapping!

There they were! Both flapping, fluttering around, seeming very ready to go!

And guess what?.... Charlie Murphy is a female!
They were alone in that cage all day, unsupervised... Charlie could be pregnant by now. My oh my. What will the media say when they find out Rick James has knocked up Charlie Murphy???

I transferred them both into the transportation plastic container and the three of us went outside.

And out to the milkweed we went.
I placed Rick James on a flower... and he did the same thing as yesterday: Just sat there.

Yes, Rick. You're glorious. BUT CAN YOU FLY!?
I reached into the container to let Charlie Murphy climb on to my finger, and just as I took my hand out of the container, Charlie Murphy took off to go and roost way up high in our Redbud tree!

I was a little sad that she didn't want to sip some nectar with Rick James before she left.

I was also concerned that Rick James still hadn't made any attempt whatsoever to fly.
I held my finger out to him and he climbed on. I walked him over to Charlie Murphy and he just sat there. Then he peed on my hand. I walked him around some more, hoping to let him feel the breeze? Look around? See something he liked? I don't know.

Eventually I placed him back on the milkweed and went inside to wash my hand.

When I came back out, he was still there on the milkweed. I figured I'd give it one last go to try and get him airborne and gently moved my finger underneath him.... and he immediately took off, up, over and past a neighbor's house, far away into the woods!
I was kind of sad I didn't get to have one last look at him roosting in a tree, like I did with Eddie and Charlie. I was also kind of sad that he didn't fly into the Redbud to join Charlie again.
I went to the Redbud to check on Charlie... and she was gone.

They could have both gone their separate ways, but who knows... maybe she flew off to a tree behind the neighbor's house and Rick James went to join her.

Monday, August 20, 2012

A new butterfly, a flail, a release.

Yesterday was quite an exciting day. Almost a tragic day, but had a happy ending.

I was in Norfolk this past weekend for a National Honeybee Day event at Norfolk Botanical Garden. I had left the butterfly chrysalises and new caterpillars with my husband for the weekend. I figured the chrysalises would just sit there, and the tiny caterpillars might need more food, if anything, but I left them with plenty.

I got home around 7 last night when my husband was in the middle of his Insanity workout. I went to say hello to him and he said, very excitedly, "I have some good news for you!"
My real guess was that the caterpillars upstairs were still doing well and that all were healthy, but I guessed a couple of joke-guesses first.
Then the real news surprised me.... he said "You have a butterfly upstairs!"

"EDDIE MURPHY!?!?! ALREADY!? OH, GOD! How did you know? Did you watch him come out?"

"No, I heard him flapping around in there."

I dropped my things on the table and rushed upstairs. Sure enough, there he was, crawling all around the ceiling of the screened cage!

"Oh geez, we have to let him out!"

Now, looking back... it was evening and had the possibility of raining later in the night, so it would have probably been fine- better, even?- to just grab some flowers from outside and bring them in to feed him for the night, then release him the next day.

I took the plants and caterpillars out of their big plastic container, thinking I would use that container to transport Eddie Murphy from the screened cage, through our house, and out to the great outdoors.
Simple, right?

I put a stick into the cage, thinking he would climb on, but he didn't.
Of course. Because what would appeal to him about a stick?
I went out and got a Black Eyed Susan from the garden, then brought that in... again, thinking- of course, he would climb right on and I'd put him and the flower into the container.
Eventually- after I cornered him and basically forced him to- he did climb onto the flower.

Gently, ever so gently, I pulled the flower from the cage.

As I carefully placed the flower into the new container, he suddenly fluttered right up and landed a windowsill!

My response was to yell at him as I made my way over to him. "Eddie Murphy! Of all the places-- there are probably spider webs and everything there-  if you get caught in one--"

But I no longer had to worry about that, as he fluttered his way over, down, and onto the edge of the desk,
and then
on the floor

"ARE YOU KIDDING ME!!!! This is so typical! This would only happen to me."

I helplessly listened to him flapping around back there, certain that he was tearing up his brand new butterfly wings, envisioning him unable to fully enjoy his new butterfly life. How sad.

My husband immediately went to work, pulling things out of the way so we could get to the bottom of the shelf and move the whole thing out away from the wall. I helped him, meanwhile hoping Eddie would make his way to a place where I could easily reach him.

And he did.

Instead of trying to give him a little flower to climb on, I offered my finger. He climbed on right away and I was able to easily get him into the container.


You're probably wondering why I didn't just take the entire screened cage outside and open it and release him that way? I've been trying to disturb the cage as little as possible so as not to accidentally bump the other chrysalises around too much.
Lesson learned.

We took Eddie outside and over to a milkweed plant, but he wouldn't leave the plastic container. I reached in and without hesitation, he climbed back onto my finger. I placed my hand on the plant, and he immediately began sipping from the flowers.
That was a very exciting thing to see.

I mean, he looked perfectly healthy, but sooooo many things can go wrong with these guys. Parasites, sickness, all kinds of weird things that will cause abnormalities such as a deformed proboscis. We still had to wait a bit to see if his wings were going to work properly, after all that flailing around in the house- I was nervous and unsure.

After about 10 minutes of nectaring, Eddie took his first flight! Great success!

He went right up into this tree.
He is in the center of this photo.
I'm not sure how long he stayed there. I'm sure by now he's on his way south- either to Mexico, or to become a parent of a butterfly who will go to Mexico. I did hear it rain last night, and was a little worried about him... I hope where ever he is, he's doing ok :)

Good luck and good bye, Eddie! Bon Voyage!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Codependent Caterpillars:

Or, "BFF's for Life" (which is all of 2 weeks, for the caterpillar.)

This is a somewhat silly post I meant to write last week, but I'm glad I didn't since today there was something significant to add.

Two of my caterpillars, Charlie Murphy and Rick James, have been inseparable almost from birth. They were the 2nd and 3rd caterpillars born from about 12 eggs I collected 2 weekends ago.

Charlie Murphy & Rick James, their first day of life.
Charlie Murphy & Rick James, day two.
I kept big (and a few small) leaves in the container to be sure everyone was well fed (I ended up with 7 or 8 baby caterpillars in all), and as the caterpillars grew bigger, I added enough leaves so that everyone could each have their own.

But for these two, the number of leaves was irrelevant. No matter how many leaves were in the container, or how much exploring they did of said leaves, they always ended up eating on the same one.
Day 4, sharing another leaf.
Eventually I put all of the little caterpillars into a bigger container- I was down to 6 of them at that point. I knew they would need more room as they got bigger. However, Charlie Murphy and Rick James- true to form- remained constantly close, even after being given more space.

This didn't always seem like a good thing though, because as with all siblings, sometimes there were fights:

Charlie Murphy is the bigger one- and it looks like he's telling Rick James that he needs some space! (I put a small leaf in between them after recording this... sometimes siblings just need to be separated for a bit.)

I had never seen caterpillars act like this before, and thought maybe I had the wrong impression of these two. Maybe they weren't best friends... but more like mutual bullies- rivals, even- who enjoy a good territorial battle and wouldn't leave each other alone no matter how many leaves I added

But the fighting phase lasted only a short time. (Well, everything with caterpillars only lasts a short time, but that's beside the point.) As the caterpillars got older (and more mature), Charlie Murphy and Rick James' bond seemed to grow stronger.

10 days old.
Eventually I transferred the caterpillars into another new container- a big screened in cage. The new cage would give them plenty of air circulation and lots of climbing space to use when they decided to wander around in search of just the right space to form a chrysalis.

I added a shallow plastic dish with holes punched in the lid, filled the dish with water, and stuck big common milkweed leaves (and a couple small swamp milkweed branches) through the holes of the lid, hoping to keep them fresh for as long as possible. Once again, enough leaves for everyone.... I think this picture speaks for itself:

It reached a point where I no longer thought it was just my imagination.

Later this same day, I was working late in our home office, where the caterpillar cage is located- on the desk, next to the computer. I finished up with work around 1 in the morning and decided to peek over at the caterpillars to see what was going on.

Oh no! Charlie Murphy and Rick James are surely about to fight again!
I watched them and waited, hoping I wouldn't have to intervene.
I waited...
And waited....
And... nothing.
They stayed in this position- not moving at all, and I realized they weren't going to fight. It seemed like they might have even been sleeping, they were so still.
It was sweet.

As you can probably tell from the above picture, the caterpillars are really huge now- about 2 inches long.

Yesterday I came home from running some errands. Eddie Murphy, the eldest caterpillar, had formed a chrysalis- which was very exciting! And Charlie Murphy and Rick James had both started wandering, climbing around, looking for a place to make their chrysalis as well.

Charlie Murphy in the foreground; Rick James in the back.
I am amazed at how in tune the two of them are.
Even at this late, late stage in their lives, when it seems like the amount of time that it takes to do what they have left to do can vary greatly (9 hours? 15 hours? 20 hours?)- they both began to spin silk on the top of the cage at the same time. And- I can't make this up, I was sitting in the room with them when it happened- they both dropped down into their hanging "J" position within about 10 minutes of each other.

Sorry for the poor quality of this photo. I took this picture through the screen- not wanting to open the door and shake the cage too much while they were in this fragile position.
When I woke up this morning, I was anxious to see what Charlie and Rick had done during the night. Had they already shed their skins one last time? Would one be a chrysalis, the other still in a "J"?

When I walked in and saw them, my heart immediately sunk. For they were both hanging straight down, no longer in the "J" shape.

Last night, I had to dispose of a sick caterpillar I had had in isolation. (He was isolated because I had collected him at a later time than the others, and since he had spent more time outside, he had been more exposed to parasites, etc. I didn't want him infecting the others that I had collected almost immediately after seeing the eggs being laid outside.) He had gone into a "J" yesterday morning, but throughout the day he lost his "J" position and eventually hung straight down... That didn't seem right to me. Later that night came the tell-tale white string hanging from his body and I knew he had been infected with the Tachinid Fly. :(

So you can imagine my sadness to see these two, both hanging there, straight down.
But I got closer, and realized they were still green and swollen looking- not rust-colored and shrunken, like the infected caterpillar.

I took a look at them from another angle and couldn't believe what I was seeing- so, of course, I grabbed my camera.

Yes... that's 17 seconds of Charlie Murphy and Rick James, simultaneously shedding their skins for the last time. (Eddie Murphy's chrysalis hangs in the background.)

This is the rest of the process. I decided to take video from a different angle. I apologize in advance for all of the movement in the middle of this video- I could tell my camera lost focus and I was moving around, trying to get it to re-focus on the pupating caterpillar in the foreground.

I feel like I was witnessing one of those old Disney movies, where it's created from actual films of animals rather than animation. "Charlie Murphy and Rick James: A Tale of Friendship, Eating, and Pooping."

Of course, I'm curious to see if the two eclose (emerge) as simultaneously as this. Only time will tell- and I've got about 10 days of waiting until I find out :)

(See the follow up here! )

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Crazy in Caterpillar Town

The caterpillars are now 11 days old (as caterpillars- it's been 13 days since their eggs were laid on my milkweed)...
Eddie Murphy is about 2 inches long!
Go ahead and laugh at my trade-show-free-giveaway Stressometer ruler...
it's the only one I can fit into their container ;P
I'll admit, for the first week, things weren't as interesting after their initial emergence from the eggs. They ate. They pooped a lot of little poops. They seemed to sleep a lot, or maybe were just in a constant flux of eat, food coma, eat, food coma. I gave them fresh leaves every day not because they were comsuming everything, but to be sure the leaves were tender and moist enough for them to enjoy.

Then we went on our road trip. They were eating enough at that time to concern me about leaving them at home without fresh leaves. I had a single floral vial that I found in one of my grandmother's planters, but had never used it before, and wasn't sure how long it could keep the leaves fresh. (It turns out it kept a branch of leaves fresh for about 3 days, which was awesome!)

We returned from the road trip and... this week, things started to change. The caterpillars are growing MUCH faster and eating much more...
This picture was taken yesterday morning. By the evening, these were about an inch and a half long. And as you can see from the top photo, taken today, they're at about 2 inches.

According to most of what I'vr read, the caterpillars are caterpillars for about 2 weeks before they pupate, so that should be happening within the next few days! Their big screened in container JUST arrived in the mail, but I have too much work to do to assemble it this very minute. I'm excited to get them in there later tonight and also to see just how big they get before they're done growing!!!

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Caterpillar road trip!

Looks like everyone is accounted for this morning! Sadly one little guy didn't make it last night. (It was still very tiny and hadn't been eating much.)

A weird thing happened yesterday. When I gave the caterpillars fresh new leaves, I added a moist paper towel to the bottom of the leaf, then put a little piece of plastic wrap around it and sealed it up with a rubber band. I *thought* that would keep the leaves fresh for a longer time- but those leaves actually seem like they dried up MORE quickly! Maybe the paper towel absorbed moisture instead of giving it? I don't know.

As a result, the caterpillars are taking a short (3 hour) road trip with me today to my grandparents' house! I will only be gone a night, but will be getting back late tomorrow and I want the little guys to have fresh leaves when they need them. Plus my grandparents have milkweed in their yard.

Look at Charlie Murphy and Eddie Murphy... they are getting so big!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

More Caterpillars (but no more applications, boo.)

This morning (day 5!) when I got up, I went to check on the caterpillars...

They insist on staying on the old leaves, even though I have given them fresh ones- and those old leaves are starting to curl up, which makes them hard to find.
But I counted a total of 8! (Only 5 are visible here.)
And I still have 3 eggs waiting to hatch, so I must have miscounted when I originally collected them.

I located Eddie Murphy, and saw something black on his face. My first thought was, "Aw, geeez, why is there poop on his face? Is he playing in it? Or did he just make so much of it that crawling through it was unavoidable?" He was squirming around, trying to get it off, and I realized that I wasn't seeing poop.
(Alright, alright, frass.
But poop is WAY more fun to say.)

Anyway, check it out:

(You can click the photo to enlarge it...)

See the long, gray thing behind him? That's his skin. I had NO idea he would already be shedding his skin only 2 days into his short life!
So the black thing in front, which doesn't look like poop at all, is his head capsule.
And look! He has the teeniest, tiniest, little nubbly antennae! Awwwwwww!

This is all pretty new to me, but from what I understand, as the caterpillar grows and gets ready to shed his skin, the layer on top of its face gets hard and sort of pops off as one piece. So his face comes off like a helmet, and his skin comes off kinda like a jacket. Think of Chris Farley doing "Fat guy in a little coat."

Eddie Murphy is growing up so fast! He is already in his 2nd instar, along with Charlie Murphy and a 3rd caterpillar who doesn't yet have a name...

Then later I went to the post office to mail out a ton of promotional materials to some people who were kind enough to volunteer to display information about the license plates at some fairs and festivals through August and the fall. I checked the P.O. box while I was there, but alas- empty today! :(