Swallowtail Butterfly {#SmartSummerChallenge - Week 3}

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A while back, I mentioned that I had a few caterpillars on my dill plants in the garden. There were three until a really strong storm hit - two of them just couldn't hold on to the plant and, if you know your dill, the leaves don't really make for great protection. After the storm, we brought the last caterpillar inside and set him up in our butterfly pavilion.

Kind of out of focus, but you get the idea!
The kids and I had Swallowtails last summer in little quart jars all over the kitchen, so we knew a little about them. But, just for a refresher, we all headed to the library. My oldest was put in charge of finding information on Swallowtails - what they eat, how long it takes them to go through their stages, etc. Little Guy and I hit the juvenile section in search of some children's books about the life stages of butterflies in general.

Being that this is the age of technology, my oldest ignored the stacks and hit the computers. Within five minutes, he had a few pages printed out that had everything we'd need to know about our new little friend and even a few coloring pages for his little brother. Little Guy and I found our books rather easily, too. They were being featured that week on a display table, so we didn't have to go far! We found a book about the life cycles of insects, one about butterflies, and one about the differences between butterflies and moths.

We loved this book - I even learned some new things!
While Little Guy let our newly dubbed "Hank" crawl on his fingers and a stick, my oldest read all about how to care for him. His three favorite foods were plentiful in our garden: Parsley, dill, and carrot tops. So, we put Hank back into the pavilion and harvested him some lunch. Once he realized that there was food in there with him, Hank went at it. We watched him eat for a very long time - this guy didn't stop! We observed that he preferred the parsley over the other two options and theorized that it was because it was sturdier and could hold his weight more easily. The kids eventually got bored watching Hank make a glutton of himself and wandered off to do their own things. After nap time, we checked on Hanks and found that he was out of food! So, we filled his vase up again - this time with so much that I was expecting to have to throw most of it away the next morning.

Can you see the little thread he made to hold himself to the stick toward the top?
We woke up to find that all of the leaves had been mowed down and Hank had disappeared. My oldest was kind of in a panic, "How did he get out? AH! What if the cat finds him?!" We searched the water in the vase, the zippers were all securely closed, but we checked all around the room. Then, Little Guy yelled, "Peek-A-Boo! I find Hank!" He was pointing into the pavilion, toward the top. Hank had already become a chrysalis! I can't believe that a 2 1/2 year old was able to notice this before me or my teen. Not only did he notice, but I am still amazed that he knew that our bright green and black caterpillar with yellow spots had become the little greenish package hanging from a stick. How cool is that?!

So, we waited. And waited. It takes an average of 10 to 14 days for the butterfly to emerge. Ours took 20 days! I'm guessing that it is because we had a week of very hot weather and I had the sir conditioner on all day, every day. Maybe Hank thought it was fall. Anyway, for some reason, on day 20, I woke up at 4am needing a glass of water (not normal!) As I was sipping on my water, I took a peek at Hank, hoping today would be the day. Even in the semi-dark, I could see that his chrysalis had turned almost black. According to the oldest's research, this meant that a new butterfly was going to emerge very soon!

The new Hank!

By the time we were all awake the next morning, we had a butterfly! The kids and I watched as Hank's wings slowly unfurled and as he got used to his proboscis (he kept unrolling it and rolling it back up.) We put some pieces of orange onto skewers and dipped them in sugar water for him. After a few hours of just getting used to the new Hank, he tried out his wings. I'm glad we have the big pavilion because he was able to fly around a little without banging into everything. He landed on an orange and both of the kids knew he was tasting it with his feet. We watched in wonder as Hank had his first taste of sugary orange. It was pretty cool! We celebrated by making orange smoothies and drinking them with straws, just like Hank! We decided to let Hank go the next morning. My oldest checked the weather report and said it would be perfect - mostly sunny, a little breezy, and around 80 degrees.

 So, we took him outside and it was quite obvious that Hank was ready to go. He hit the top of the pavilion and tried his best to find a way out. My oldest wanted to be the cameraman, so Little Guy and I worked on letting Hank free.

We were trying to get him to crawl on Little Guy's hand, but Hank didn't want anything to do with us! He squeezed past our hands and flew out. My oldest wasn't ready, so he missed getting a good picture. We did get to watch Hank flutter around for a few minutes before he headed into the woods behind the house. I'm hoping he'll be back to sample some of the flowers in our garden!

I wanted you to see what they look like up close and, since Hank didn't feel like cooperating... these are last year's models. They are Black Swallowtail Butterflies.
We learned quite a bit about butterflies from this experience. Their life cycle, how much one little caterpillar can eat, that they poop (of great interest to my potty-training Little Guy!), how butterflies eat, and that these are great pollinators. The pollinators part is another lesson we learned about and I'm hoping to get a post up about that, too, very soon!

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