By God, They Hatched!

Remember last summer, when Evie was obsessed with a couple of caterpillars she caught in the garden?

She had been catching butterflies all summer, but they mostly just fanned their wings a lot and then died. It wasn’t until she got the caterpillars when things really got interesting. Instead of just sitting there, they would crawl around and actually do things (by which I mean, poop. Oh boy, the hours that we’d while away, just watching those caterpillars poop!). Evie had to actually take care of them like pets; cleaning the cage, collecting fresh food for them to eat, etc.

Despite all of her hard work, I never expected them to form chrysalises. It was like a science project just magically appeared before our eyes. Totally rewarded all the work she put into it.

You can imagine our disappointment when we learned they wouldn’t emerge until next spring. It seemed impossible that we could keep these things healthy and hearty through an entire winter. Since they’re used to wintering outdoors, we had to keep them outdoors, which meant Evie’s little bug box has been sitting on our back porch this entire time. It’s been periodically buried in snow, kicked, flooded with rainwater, squeezed by a 3 year old, upended, kicked, frozen by -30 degree windchills, squeezed by a 4 year old, kicked, put back together upside down…just about anything that could happen to these chrysalises, did happen to them.

There was absolutely NO. WAY. any living thing could have survived it.

Eastern Black Swallowtail

We were so absolutely sure these things were dead 5 times over. After spring came and went, we had finally convinced Evie that it wasn’t happening. However, we just kind of left them sitting out there; they had been there so long, they are just part of the scenery these days.

9 months she cared for those things, shepherding them through their entire life cycle. And we were there to watch it take it’s first, tentative flight.

Be free, you beautiful Eastern Black Swallowtail! Be free and have babies of your own, so that generation upon generation of future Swallowtails can be captured and summarily starved to death and dumped on our back porch by the most vicious predator known to butterflies.

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Butterfly Girl

There is a new predator in the garden making a significant dent in the insect population. Evie has taken a keen interest in bugs.

It all started when my dad gave her a little butterfly net and plastic bug cage. It didn’t seem like much at the time, but I don’t know if Evie has ever been so enamored with a toy. She went from whining and complaining about having to go to the garden to begging to go. She’s deadly with that net, and she basically never goes without catching at least one butterfly. She wore that bug cage clean out, and had to buy a replacement, something so dear to her heart that she actually spent her own money on it.

Her usual pattern was to catch between one and three butterflies, give them flowers and sticks until they died, then dump their corpses on the back porch and go fill her butterfly house of death with a new crop. We tried to convince her to let them go while they were still alive, but we were never really successful with that. She’s very patient and very good at catching them (although not necessarily as good at getting them in the cage).

Evie: “What’s a talent show?”
Me: “Oh, Evie. You would *love* a talent show. It’s like at a school or something, when you get on stage and perform. You could act out a skit, or sing a song, or do a ballet dance.”
Evie: “Or for my talent you could release a bunch of butterflies on stage, and I’d catch them!”

The butterflies were relatively cool, but the whole thing really went to the next level when she nabbed a couple of caterpillars.

These were big fat green ones, with yellow and black spots on their backs. We identified them on the computer (Eastern black swallowtails, as Evie was fond of pointing out to everybody all of the time) and identified what they liked to eat. Evie carefully collected all of their favorite foods and the caterpillars quickly responded by chowing down like there was no tomorrow before crawling up and making some nice big cocoons.

I’m a 33 year old man, and I’m not going to lie, it was pretty cool. We all spent a decent amount of time watching these little guys crawl around, but I never thought they’d make cocoons. It was a pretty exciting event around here. They’re fun to watch when they’re crawling around. They’re fun to watch when they’re eating. And don’t even get me started on how much fun they are when they poop! It’s like christmas morning at the Halbach house. Luckily for Evie, those caterpillars pretty much did nothing BUT poop.

For a while, Evie was taking these things everywhere she went, especially school, and every person she met, kid or adult, was fascinated by them. They were so cool! Evie seemed to get a particularly big reaction, though I’m not sure if that was due to 1) her general enthusiasm for the subject, 2) the fact that she was a girl that was into bugs, or 3) the fact that we live in Chicago and seeing living creatures is something of a novel concept. I mean that for real, I actually saw people on a bus stopped at a light pointing at her caterpillars as we walked by on the sidewalk.

Things somewhat calmed down now that all the caterpillars are chrysalises (chrysali?), except that now she’s captured a big, fat grasshopper. It’s got to be at least 3 inches long, and just as hungry (and full of poop) as those caterpillars. My only problem with the grasshopper is that there’s no end point, other than his death. So we’re kind of back to the butterfly situation again, except the grasshopper seems to be quite a bit sturdier than they were.

In the meantime, our chrysalises are wintering on the back porch. It turns out that they won’t turn into butterflies until spring! So we’ll see if the enthusiasm can last that long (to say nothing of the actual chrysalises). But if they do, then Evie will have shepherded these little guys through their entire life cycle, which is pretty dang cool.