One of our all-time favorite homeschool experiences has been the raising of monarch caterpillars to butterflies. We are "blessed" with milkweed vines - they consistently try to take over every vertical surface in our garden! When we first moved here handyman hubby confused them with virginia creeper (it's a story for another time) so I attempted to wage war and remove every milkweed vine I saw. I soon discovered a monarch caterpillar munching and was stopped in my tracks.
I'm getting to the 1 monarch turns into 3 here in a minute, honestly! The milkweed vines and I have a pleasant truce. Every year I remove enough to prevent them becoming a monoculture, but I leave enough so that monarchs will have a home. They're not as pretty as as the orange butterfly plants most people think of in association with monarchs, but they're here, and they're free, and I love monarchs!
Well, 10 days ago I was out maintaining the truce, pulling up most of the mikweed vines, when I hit the jackpot - one very large, stripey, monarch caterpillar! Of course I had to rush in to tell the kids and grab our butterfly habitat (a large, plastic jar that used to house pretzels). If you've ever tried raising bugs in a jar and discovered the mess you get with bug poop, there's an easy secret on fixing this. Just put a small layer of dirt from the garden in the bottom of the jar -- nature will take care of the mess for you. I can't believe it took me half a lifetime to discover this! By the way, don't use the lid that came with your jar, a tissue held on with a rubber band allows much better airflow.
Back to our 1 monarch. He settled himself right into our vine and dirt habitat and by the next morning had turned into a beautiful, bright green, jewel-studded coccoon. While we were a little disappointed to have missed watching him grow, it was very exciting to know he was on his way to emerging as a buttefly. Imagine our surprise when we then noticed a tiny monarch caterpillar, and his buddy, a miniscule caterpillar who had entered the habitat with the food source vine!
For the last 10 days we've watched Tiny and Miniscule grow up at an astounding rate. As I write, Tiny is busy spinning silk and preparing his cocoon attachment. I know that Miniscule will soon follow in Tiny's footsteps, assuring us a front seat at the future emergence of not 1 monarch birth, but 3! Who knows, there may even be other little monarch guys and gals hidden in the vines I brought in this morning, but if not we are waiting patiently to discover the adult identity of two more avid milkweed consumer larvae, which we suspect will grow into beetles.
Life surely contains surprises -- these are one of the good ones :-)