Monday, June 23, 2014

The Disappearing Caterpillars

I have been fascinated with the life cycle of butterflies ever since I read about it when I was a kid. I pored over the colorful pictures in books with a mix of awe and yes, disgust. The close-up photos of the caterpillars, their pupas, and even the butterfly's bodies filled me with wonder and a certain fear. I grew up loving them but afraid of them touching my skin.

When I became a birdwatcher, I was able to get over the fear (I'm maybe 95% cured!) but the fascination has definitely doubled... even tripled! So imagine my joy when I first witnessed a Lime Butterfly laying eggs on my mom's calamansi plant in her pocket garden! It was "Stage 1" come to life!!

Do you see the tiny orb?

The adult butterfly would curve its body and deposit a single egg on a leaf or stem of the host plant. It would flutter around again and would deposit another egg and then another. My mom and I were able to see it lay around 4 eggs that morning.

A few days after, I returned to the plant and found three tiny brown crawlies munching away at their chose leaves! Success! 

One of the "older" ones

I constantly checked on them and tried my best to document all the changes, transformations, and growth of the caterpillars. In the process, I was able to find four caterpillars on the calamansi plant and they were of varying sizes! I was able to observe them eating, staying still, AND I was also able to witness a defensive behavior they are known for!

I accidentally hit the leaf it was on with my finger and out came
those yellow-red "horns" from its head!
The photo is blurred because I was caught off guard seeing its horns!

It really is amazing being able to see first hand things I only once read about or see from other people's photos. I left it alone after that =)

I checked on them every morning as soon as I woke up. They would either be having breakfast or fast asleep.

This was my photo of the largest one from last Sunday. I was able to count all four caterpillars that morning before I heard mass with my family.

They're growing so fast! You can see a smaller one climbing down
the branch under my finger.

When we returned that afternoon, they were all gone. All of them. Disappeared without a trace!!!

I was really sad. There was no trace of them! I checked the neighboring plants but they weren't there. My best guess as to why they all disappeared: a bird had eaten them.

I was so excited for them to complete their metamorphosis! Especially since I haven't seen an actual eclosion! Oh well, I guess I have to wait for another batch of these creepy crawlies to come to life in our garden. In the meantime, I will have to content myself with completing their life cycle through different experiences:

They were supposed to develop into bright green caterpillars until
they were ready to pupate.
This was from a previous batch of Disappearing Caterpillars.

When ready for pupation, it positions itself like this and begins
 the slow process of enveloping itself in a chrysallis.
Again, from another unsuccessful batch.

Its chrysallis is bright green and really alien-like!
This one was unsuccesful... a parasite got inside it =(

Of course, the last stage would have been the best to observe: eclosion or the emergence of the butterfly from its pupa. I have yet to witness that but I did get to see some newly-emerged Lime Butterflies last weekend!

Fresh from the pupa!
Its empty pupa case is on its upper left

We were also able to see them mating just after eclosion!

I have technically seen all the stages in their life cycle although in different places. I'll be on the lookout again for any egg-laying butterflies in our garden and hopefully the next batch will no longer contribute to the increasing number of disappearing caterpillars.

I have a previous blog post about the unsuccessful pupas here.

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