Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Entomological Fun With Asclepias syriaca

Monarch caterpillar on milkweed pod

I never pass a milkweed plant (unless I'm driving a car--I draw the line at braking for roadside weeds) without looking on the undersides of its upper leaves. Since I moved to Pocahontas County in 1999, my search has been in vain, until this past summer. I never found eggs, but this August, I discovered plenty of these handsome Monarch caterpillars. I don't know what was different this year.

When I was about fourteen, I discovered that you could pluck your milkweed with Monarch egg, bring it into the house, stick it in a Coke bottle filled with water, and, over the next two weeks, watch the caterpillar hatch, and grow, and munch away at the leaves. As the leaves disappear, you can move the caterpillars (I kept finding more) onto freshly picked plants. You need to sweep up the frass on the tabletop pretty often, but then the caterpillars pick a place to pupate, and you get to watch them split their skin down the back one last time, to reveal a translucent, green and gold chrysalis, which squirms itself into shape, and holds still. It's not long before the chrysalis turns black and orange, splits open again, and out crawls the long-legged, tiny-winged butterfly. It pumps up the tiny wings, gets nice and dry, and needs to be let outdoors.

I'm reasonably certain that kids today don't ever have this much fun.

No comments: