Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Monarch

I love seeing images in field guides of cool, lesser noticed bugs, the really big ones, or the ones that have more colors than most, or even the ones that live for a brief moment in time and then go on their journey into death and beyond.  It makes it all seem something like a treasure hunt.  In all my (relatively) brief years, I have never seen an actual monarch caterpillar.  They are so big and so yellow, that it seems amazing that I've never come across one, but there you have it.

"MOM! Come quick!"
I hear this a lot.  It is usually followed by "See what Hunter did!"
(Her mischievous younger sister)

But this time it was followed by, "See what I found!"
'Lo and behold my daughter had found a bona-fide monarch caterpillar that was huge, and most likely in its last instar before going into it's pupal stage.  She found it chomping away on our milkweed plants right next to the front porch (which is, of course, exactly why we planted them).
Inspired by this momma here, I thought we would make an environment for her and watch this miracle happen.  I had a large glass biscotti jar I got at a yard sale, got some sticks and milkweed leaves, a piece of screen and a rubber band and got to work. I found a lot of helpful information here at the Butterfly School.  Did you know that caterpillars don't need water in their "house" because they get all the water they need from the plants they eat?  Did you know that caterpillar poop is called frass?  Did you know how loud the term "pupa" will make a four-year-old laugh? Well, neither did I. Look how much smarter we are already. 

At first the little one ate.

And ate.

And ate some more. 
It was the very hungry caterpillar all over again.

Then it stopped.  I got freaked out and called the Audubon society.  They informed me (without even laughing a little bit) they they don't eat continuously without stopping ever, and that it probably just needed a rest.  She was right.  It ate and ate a bit after that. 
Toward the evening it started to climb up the side of the jar.  This was really amazing to watch.  As she climbed she was swaying her head back and forth, kind of like she was questing for something.  As I sat (the girls were heading off to bed at this point) with my arms folded on the table and my head resting upon them, I saw that she was actually weaving a silky ladder for herself.  It seemed the jar was too slippery for her to hang on without some help.  So she made this ladder, and slept there on the side of the jar.  When my husband came downstairs after putting the kids to sleep, he asked if I was going to watch it all night and that it seemed like it was probably sleeping. 

The next morning we gave it fresh leaves and it seemed to just sort of putz around.  By the next day it was hanging from the screen in the tell-tale "J" shape!  We were headed out that day, and I was so afraid that we would miss the magical chrysalis transformation into the pupal stage (hahahaha). 
When we came home there was a bright green thing coming from the head area, and some liquid dripping.  I immediately thought it was dead.  But after my previous folly into freakedoutedness, before calling the authorities I decided to wait.  And then we waited one more day.  It was dead. 
When I had spoken to the Audubon lady she talked a bit about how sometimes they die.  She said, "People get so fussy about them and monitor their every move.  But sometimes they die.  It's just the way it is."

I was heartbroken.  And I was so sad to have to tall my kids.  Athena asked if we could wait another day, and so we did.  By this time it was beginning to shrivel and dry up.  When I told her it was really dead her response was, "Can I hold it now?" I hadn't let her handle it again since I learned that we have bacteria on our hands that can kill it, and I was afraid her little sister would crush it by accident. 

Her response blows my mind.  She's a really different kind of kid than I was (am).  If I had gone through something like this at her age I would have been inconsolable for days.  Possibly years.  Really, there is still some lame stuff that still gives me pangs.  Like that time I threw my Chatty Cathy Doll off the second story balcony to see what would happen.  It breaks.  (pang).  But Athena just moves on to the next truth. It's dead now, so we can't hurt it, I can hold it.  Just like that.  Don't think she's cold either, she loves all living things, and they love her.  I seriously just watched a lobster fall asleep in her arms the other day.  A lobster. But she has a very matter-of-fact was of looking at things.  She inherits this handy skill from her father, and not from me.  I am still honing my matter-of-fact skills. 
Later that week we were by the tomatoes and I heard, "MOM! Come Quick!"
I hurried over, checking to make sure the little one was in view. 
"Look! Frass!"
She had found a pile of frass identical to the one the monarch left behind.  We rooted around to see if we could get another, but it was long gone. 

So our butterfly adventure didn't turn out the way we (or the Monarch) hoped, but we learned a little.  My kid has a sharper, keener eye for the nature around her, and her momma learned to enjoy the beauty of what is, whether it falls in with my expectations or not.  Thanks, Kid.

1 comment:

  1. What a truely wonderful life lesson! We had a similar one this summer with two adorable baby bunnies :( Mason reacted the same way..."Oh well, I wonder why the mama never came back?, maybe a coyote got the mama." Kids teach us as much as we teach them!