Summer surrounds us with science. We’ve been catching tadpoles and capturing caterpillars and releasing them as frogs and butterflies. It’s nothing short of amazing to watch these creatures move through a process called metamorphosis, which changes them from one form to a completely different one as they become adults. This is a great survival tactic, since the youngsters and adults live in different areas and eat different things, so they’re not completing for food or space!
You can look for monarch caterpillars on milkweed and swamp milkweed, which you see in the video above. Bring plenty of food home for them to eat as they grow (the plants you found them on.) Tiger Swallowtail Caterpillars prefer a diet of dill! If you have trouble finding caterpillars, plant some milkweed and other butterfly-friendly flowers in your garden! The monarch population is in trouble due to lack of milkweed, which once grew everywhere. Click here for more information raising Monarchs.
We caught tadpoles in a local fountain (with permission, of course) and brought them home to observe. When they became tiny toads, we released them in the same fountain where we caught them. Before catching tadpoles, check local regulations to make sure it’s allowed and ALWAYS return them to the exact spot where you caught them, to avoid the spread of deadly fungi and invasive species! If you can’t return them to the same spot, don’t bring them home! Keep them in water from the source where you caught the them, and never add tap water to their habitat, since chlorine will kill them. Be sure there is a rock for them to crawl onto when they become frogs or toads. They’ll eat water plants and algae from their original habitat, but you can also boil green lettuce in bottled water and chop it finely to feed your tadpole. Release them immediately when they hop out of the water, since it may be difficult to know what to feed them once they’re mature.
We’ve enjoyed watching the Monarch caterpillar we found a few weeks ago transform from ravenous larva to jewel-like chrysalis. Soon, a beautiful butterfly will emerge and my kids and I will cheer as it soars to the treetops.
It’s a great time of year to find Monarch caterpillars! Look for some milkweed that’s been chewed up and you may find a caterpillar of your own to observe! Be sure to take some milkweed with you and keep it fresh so your caterpillar has plenty of food. The last bunch of caterpillars that hatch out each summer are the ones that make the long trip to Mexico, where they’ll spend the winter before returning to your backyard.
There was a really neat article about Monarchs in the New York Times recently! Click here to read it.