Butterflies and Moths for the CalNat Class, 02-01-19

I got an order from Carolina Biological today of some live critters for my Certified California Naturalist course: five Painted Lady butterfly caterpillars, three Polyphemus Moth cocoons, and six Tobacco Hornworm pupal cases.

The caterpillars came in a sealed jar with an agar-like material on the bottom to feed them as they grow. When they get fat enough, they’ll climb to the top of the jar, suspend themselves upside-down from the inside of the cap, form their chrysalises and then emerge as butterflies. Once the butterflies come out, I can release them from the jar and into the butterfly cage I have. (They can also eventually go outside to complete their lifecycle. All of these critters are native to California, so we won’t be releasing invasives into the environment.)

I’ve had Polyphemus Moth cocoons before, and they’re effortless to care for. You just set them inside a butterfly enclosure and wait for the moths to emerge. These are the huge as-big-as-your-hand moths that only live for a few days after they come out of their cocoons. They don’t eat anything; they don’t even have mouth parts.

I’ve never had the Tobacco Hornworm pupae before, but I’ve seen them, and know enough about them that they need to be covered by some kind of substrate, so they don’t “explode” when the moth emerges. I have them in paper cups filled with excelsior. The excelsior is firm enough to contain the pupal cases, but light enough for the moths to climb up through it once they emerge. These are big moths, too, but not as large as the Polyphemus Moths. They DO have mouthparts, so I have to give them nectar until they’re ready to be released.

I’ll keep adding to this album as the critters evolve and emerge. #CalNat

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Mary K. Hanson is a breast cancer survivor who, at age 61, took coursework to become a Certified California Naturalist. The author of “The Chubby Woman’s Walkabout”™ blog, Ms. Hanson has also written nature-based feature articles published in regional newspapers, authored over ten books, including her "Cool Stuff Along the American" series of guide books, and has had her photographs featured in books, articles, calendars, on the American River Parkway Foundation’s Instagram stream, and even the White House blog. This year Ms. Hanson is helping to launch and teach a new Certified California Naturalist course through Tuleyome, in partnership with the University of California and the Woodland Library, so members of the public can themselves become certified as naturalists in the state. All of the photos seen on her website were taken by Ms. Hanson herself (unless noted otherwise) with moderate- to low-end photographic equipment more easily affordable to the everyday nature enthusiast. She also occasionally leads photo-walks through the American River Bend Park for the public and is sometimes available for public speaking.