What are these caterpillars thinking?!

I’ve been holding off on this post because there was the real possibility that I would murder these five innocent yet obstinate swallowtail caterpillars. Their collective attitude makes monarchs seem simple and angelic. As of this writing, (November 26- this will probably publish later) everyone is in chrysalis and seem safe.

Everything I read about swallowtails indicated that they would form their chrysalis and overwinter. I was in the habit of getting out of my car and taking a caterpillar head count before even going in the house after work every day. However as we edged into the end of October and actual ice in our rain on Halloween night, these guys showed no sign of decamping the fennel plant for their winter homes. October20198

I fully panicked  on November 2, when I came home to find two of them heading inside dead leaves in the grass. Two more were still hunkered down at the base of the fennel where they had been days before; and for the love of Pete, IT WAS COLD!

I found a shallow styrofoam tray in the recycling, dug up a clump of curled parsley, and some un-frosted dill. Yes, we had had at least one frost by this time. What are these caterpillars doing?!

I bundled everybody up with the plants in the pop-up environment and relocated them to my unheated garage. I was afraid that the heat in the house would further mess with their tiny crawly instincts. Additionally, I could not find an article that would clearly tell me how to proceed. Heated house? Cold garage? Stop messing with shit? Who knew.

At any rate, everybody ramped up their activity level within an hour of being in the garage. I really thought one in the leaf was dead.

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November 2

However this arrangement lead to idiotic situations where I “needed to take my caterpillars for a walk.” I couldn’t just leave them in a dark, windowless garage all day! Plus the live plants needed the light as well. I would set them out in the sun and hope for the best before going to work every morning. There was one day where it turned extremely cold and rainy before I got home, and I found two of them curled up on the floor of the tent as if they had fallen.

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Miles gets it.

However the longer this went on, the more I worried about their time frame. I now theorize that reason that elementary classes use monarchs to raise and watch in the classroom is that monarchs follow a predictable timetable whereas apparently swallowtails do whatever the fuck they want. I’m not the boss of them!

Finally, I decided that maybe this was more about time than temperature. Everyone’s activity had slowed. One little guy had been in the same spot under the egg carton for days. Another had assumed what I considered the pre-pupal J position, but was not moving forward. I could see the anchoring silks near all of their heads and bums. Around November 10, I decided to bring them into the house to see if warmer environment helped to speed things along. Again, I could not find helpful articles that really spelled out what to do so this was just me rolling the dice. (Potential murderess  here!)

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Success came on November 16 and 17. One by one, I discovered them in chrysalis. The one on the stick was the first to go. However this is where I cut our ties. Some articles suggested keeping the chrysalis in unheated garages and even your refrigerator, but they also said that some swallowtails have stayed in chrysalis for over a year! I cannot maintain this level of stress or caterpillars in my fridge for over a  year. Also between climate change and Ohio’s multiple personality weather patterns, who knows what these guys will decide to do.

The one on a stick is firmly planted in a bush where I can see it. The other four are sheltered in a styrofoam and egg carton “hut” that gives some ventilation and an exit strategy if they decide to emerge on one of our freaky high 50’s “winter” days. Hopefully, predators and weather will let all five survive until late spring. Keep ya’ posted!

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November 16- 17

Wearable Art: Spiders!

Yet another double dip from my instagram takeover to go along with my insect theme.

Last summer I was in a weird? unhealthy? relationship with a Black and Yellow Garden Spider. Bernadette was an orb weaver, measured about 3 inches across, and scared the ever living shit out of me.

DSCF3432However she also fascinated me. People threatened to un-friend me if I posted one more photo of her on social media. I checked in on her every day, multiple times a day. I could clearly watch her from my living room window. I gathered Japanese beetles and stink bugs to drop in her web; she was the only one who would eat those pests. Watching her attack them made all the screams go live in my head. If you can see the webbing come out of a spider’s butt then the spider is too big.

Then Bernadette got pregnant, moved house, and built her nest sac by my back patio doors. We had a Charlotte’s Web moment where she passed away a few days later, and I totally relocated her egg sac to the back of the garden because that is 1000 BABY SPIDERS!

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Somewhere  towards the end of this summer in the midst of my spider drama, I found Jamie’s shop on Etsy (JamieSpinello). One recommendation lead to another and then to her etched copper and silver jewelry, two of my favorite jewelry mediums. The cuff’s description talked about orb weavers and I could see all of Bernadette’s brilliant patterns including her hunting instinct in Jamie’s design.  (Also, I grew up on Linda Carter as Wonder Woman, and it sure as hell feels like a bad guy deflecting Wonder Woman bracelet.)

  • Artist: Jamie Spinello @jamiespinello
  • Title/year: Moth and Spider, 2018
  • Materials: copper

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…and then we were scientists!

Twas another buggy day. I’d had a brown orb weaver camped out across my front windows stretching from the porch post to the Japanese maple. It did not keep its web as neat and tight as Bernadette did nor did it exude her confidence. It really only seemed to be out in the evenings and would scurry into a curled up maple leaf whenever I opened the front door or approached for pictures. It took caution and quiet not to panic it.September20192It was there for ages and then gone. Deceased or moved on I thought. However much like Bernadette did, it was just relocating. I opened my front door early one morning intent on putting things in order to drive off to MomBert’s and almost walked through a new web. Puzzlement and a high pitched scream saved me from having a large orb weaver stuck to my midsection.

It had not spared an inch, literally using the entire doorway as a frame for a new web. The door looks wet because I tried to “mist” the web strands in an attempt to photograph its enormity. No luck. While this seemed like excellent home security, I did not think that the cat sitter needed to deal with it. I gently broomed down the web and deposited the spider in the nearby hostas.

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Part two of a buggy day happened later at MomBert’s. This summer she had a absolute herd of monarch caterpillars nom nomming her milkweed. They were also incredibly cooperative caterpillars in that they all created their chrysalises in blatantly obvious spots: the side of her house, in between fence posts, and off of railings.

Unfortunately, not all survived the process. The monarch chrysalis darkens and becomes solidly black before the butterfly emerges however turning black and staying that way is an indicator that the butterfly died. One chrysalis on the side of the house was definitely a goner as it had been there for some time and we could see a crack in it.October20191

My nephew and I were both curious about the insides of the chrysalis. Instead of smashing our way in, we got two pairs of tweezers and the trusty magnifying glass.

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There may have been the suggestions of a leg or antennae, but nothing solid when we got it open. In a very unscientific way, I can testify that the inside of a dead chrysalis smells like really stinky feet and lettuce that has liquefied in the salad container.

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Nature reminds us that it is wild after all

Warning, there’s a bloody, gross, but freakishly fascinating photo at the end.

Generally, my interactions with nature involve words like “cute,” “lovely,” “look, they’re friends,” along with squeals of excitement while I anthropomorphize the shit of whatever creature is in front of me. I root for nature. Yes, nature you need to do your thing and survive! As long as that thing is adorable and could be in a scene with Disney princesses.

Typically, both MomBert and I cheer on praying mantises. Finding one of their nests is a celebratory event. Praying mantises eat the garden pests. They are strange looking, strong, cold hearted (there’s that anthropomorphizing) predators who usually earn their keep.

However like raccoons that don’t want hugs, and groundhogs who haven’t suffered from a lack of petting, praying mantises are mate-eating, wild beasties.

Among the soft and squishy beasties are caterpillars. MomBert has had great success with attracting monarch caterpillars this year in her yard and in the BF’s meadow that he agreed not to mow. Meanwhile my milkweed is not bringing all the boys to the yard. I’m guessing that geography and environment are factors, but I’m jealous nonetheless.IMG_7092

They even consider her house a hip place to build a chrysalis and transform!
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She checks on her army daily and worries about their well-being which led to a series of upsetting text messages this week. She’d sent an update of the current five nom-nomming away happily-see above– but then discovered that sixth caterpillar had become a juicy snack for the beast at the watering hole.

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At least it got to keep its snack.

While this was disappointing, it was expected and understandable. She transported the clearly pregnant praying mantis to the backyard where she’s been trying to relocate them so they are away from the caterpillar population.

We expect bug on bug violence, but her next discovery was out of left field and horrifying to all of us. She found a praying mantis eating a decapitated hummingbird! WTF, Nature!

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*******Side Note: 1. Texting just needs to let us swear. Auto-correct should know by now that when I or anyone else types “fuck,” that that is exactly what we mean. I suppose the “ducker” is just protecting me from myself.  2. She insists on referring to hummingbirds as “hummers” and I’m not going to be the one to explain it. That’s my sister’s job.

This was the horrible bloody reminder that nature has got to do its groove thang. It was upsetting. I mean, there was that time that I found a chipmunk guiltily standing over a brainless, dead mouse. Yes, the top of the skull had been removed and the brain was gone. Zombie chipmunk? But that just registered as weird.

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A bloody, decapitated, actively being devoured hummingbird though plucked at heartstrings and seemed unfair. Maybe because they are tiny, but so packed with energy and purpose. They’re drawn to the bright and beautiful flowers, so by association are part of that beauty.

Additionally, the logistics seemed impossible. How could a bug catch a bird? Of course, I googled it and immediately found videos of praying mantises catching hummingbirds. I can’t even post the link here, it was that upsetting. The praying mantis flings those long serrated arms out, grabs the bird by the throat as it hovers, appearing to strangle it or trying to cut the head off. The worst was watching the little, shiny jewel of bird twist and struggle. I only watched one video, that was enough to understand.

So “circle of life,” nature is beautiful but purposefully predatory and provides me with so many interesting experiences.

If you continue scrolling, you will see a praying mantis eating a hummingbird.

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Is Not Kitty

After being gone for a few days, I had to do a sweep of the perimeter and assess the garden. Somebody broke my super, fancy, thrift store, glass bowl birdbath in half, but otherwise things seemed fine.

I was in the middle of the yard, hands full of replacement birdbath, when I heard someone rustling through the flowerbed by the fence. My Brain was, of course, like “Kitty?”

But is not kitty.

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I put everything down in order to take a picture of the skunk 10 feet away because I’m that asshole. The skunk waddled on under the fence, and I chose to wrap up my backyard activities.

By the time I got back in the house, Is Not Kitty had returned with a friend!

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They dug around underneath the bird feeders and then got drinks! I decided that I could sneak back out to the corner of the garage to get these shots with my camera rather than my phone.

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PRECIOUS!!!!

The next morning around 9 am, they were under the living room windows cleaning up that bird feeder. We were up to three! Three Is Not Kitties who would not pose together or relocate to a point where I did not have to shoot through the window screen.

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My camera bumped the glass. Scary sound!

From this vantage they looked kitten sized, like Kitten Room kitten sized so maybe 3 or more pounds. Even though everyone on Facebook and the receiving end of my text messages were disturbed by the repeated visits, I felt that as long as they were cleaning up excess bird seed then the ants would not take up residence so profusely; and if grubs were for dessert, so be it!

Plus how could I ignore the adorableness? Two of the three decided to have a wrestling match in the hostas…again at a horrible angle for my camera. Just like with the cats, there were flailing limbs, exposed tummies, and shouts of “Mooommmmmmm! Stop it!

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All this action was worth putting the game camera out for a few days. Success!

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