September 19, 2014 by bck1402
Every now and then, we have a caterpillar infestation.
I never really paid it any mind, dutifully getting rid of the caterpillars that were munching away on the Oleander plant. It did occur to me that these caterpillars were really odd looking.
I should probably also mention that around this time, I picked up some accessories – special lenses – that could be attached to the camera on my handphone, one of which was a macro lens. Thing was… you had to get real close for that lens to capture a decent picture.
Anyway, I figured there was an opportunity here. We learned in school about how these caterpillars would turn into butterflies, but I had never seen it happen. So, I kept a couple of the caterpillars for observation, snapping away a few pics along the way.
The first trick was to figure out what kind of caterpillar I had. I did the customary internet searches, trying to figure out how to describe it (‘green caterpillar’ is really not enough) and find it through numerous sites of caterpillars and butterflies. The most I could manage was the ‘green caterpillar with an alien-face with blue eyes’ visage… and still came up with bupkis. So, I tired the Google image search where I could upload the image and Google’s search engine would find similar images.
That’s when the shoe dropped. I didn’t have a caterpillar that would turn into a butterfly… it would turn into a moth. The Oleander Hawkmoth, to be precise.
I had two at first, but after a day of them voraciously munching away at the leaves I placed in the box, I got rid of the smaller one and kept the bigger (almost as big as a ring finger), hoping it would metamorphose sooner. While I was expecting the customary cocoon, that didn’t happen. Moths don’t do that whole weaving of a chrysalis thing. Three days of munching and then it just stopped, and settled under some leaves. It probably gave out some gaseous element that resulted in the leaves sticking to each other, and lightly to the box. It took a while to figure that it had made it’s cocoon with the leaves.
By September 5th, the change happened.
After a couple of days, I cleaned out the box, threw out the cocoon of decaying leaves, added in some soil and fresh leaves. Throughout that time, the pupa turned brown and gradually became darker. Further online research suggested a conversion period of 20 days to as much as 8 weeks! Almost ten days in the pupa stage, there was a change as a portion of it became near black. By the next day, the segmented parts also became almost blackish.
By day 11 of pupa watch, I noticed that the ‘shell’ seemed somewhat transparent and I could see the insect within. What I thought looked like the wings was actually the moth itself.
This morning (September 18) was day 12 (! – what happened to 20 days?) and when I checked on it, the moth was out, and it did not look good. I thought that it had just emerged and that was why the wings had not stretched out, but I also noticed that the inside of the box seemed very messed up. There were specks of the soil on everything – you might be able to notice it in the picture above. It might have suggested that the moth fluttered about quite a bit trying to find its way out, and then settled when it couldn’t do so.
A little tap on the side of the box and the moth moved. At least, it wasn’t dead.
I left the box completely open throughout the day hoping that the wings would properly dry out and expand, but by night, nothing had changed. It barely moved. Then again, it’s a moth, they’re only active at night. While I could feed the caterpillars the leaves, I had no idea what the moth ate, especially since it didn’t go for the remaining leaves. I decided to let it go, and tilted the box over the Oleander plant.
It was raining tonight, and it was still drizzling when I put the moth out. The moth scampered up the stalk of the plant (very actively) and settled under a leaf. I hope the wings will still spread out properly, but at least it’s on the plant it was named for. Maybe it has something to eat. Pretty sure it may drop some eggs and we’ll have caterpillars again. They always come back.
If I do this again, I know what to look for and maybe see it come out of the cocoon for sure. In closing, here’s a close up of the fuzzy bugger…