After six months, BABY CAP LIVES! – And is now a beautiful butterfly.

Early Sunday afternoon, I was standing in the doorway of my Tallahassee home, sending Niko off to work at the rock gym. I glanced up at the trinkets arranged by the foyer, and there he was – Baby Cap has emerged from his cocoon and is now a gorgeous Black Swallowtail butterfly. Many readers will remember the adorable caterpillar whose life I chronicled for weeks until he reached pupation.

Baby Cap, as he was dubbed, has traveled with me all over the midwest. His projected ‘birth’ date was to occur during my two-week climbing trip to Wyoming and Colorado with the boys – so naturally, I took him with me. Baby Cap traveled through Kansas and Oklahoma; he hung out in the crisp mountain air at Horseshoe Canyon Range; he even visited the Grand Teton National Park. Any adventure we experienced during the road trip was shared with Baby Cap.

He didn’t hatch at any point during the trip, so we returned together to the lazy city of Tallahassee. Weeks, then months passed, yet Baby Cap remained in his brown cocoon. It has been a total of six months since he entered his process of metamorphosis. Everyone around me has long since abandoned hope for my little buddy. Friends asked why I still kept the jar around, and when I planned on finally throwing it away. I knew he was probably dead, but I couldn’t give up on him.

Then, without warning, he emerged to a cold Sunday afternoon. Releasing him was undoubtedly the most amazing experience I have ever had with a creature. While Niko ran to grab both of my cameras, I coaxed his little body out from the mason jar in which I kept his chrysalis. His black body was still a bit curled, and his wings were dipped in powder. We brought him into the backyard, and rested him on my milkweed plant. After hanging out with us for a while, Baby Cap stretched out his wings for a final time, then soared out through the backyard and into the afternoon sky.

Naturally, I took a million pictures. Here are the best:

How’s that for a little Monday Motivation?

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Image of the Day: Hello, Mr. Caterpillar Buddy!

Today’s awesome creature photograph is dedicated to one of my favorite readers: the very adorable, recently turned one-year-old baby Mia. She and her mom read The Morning Fresh each night before Mia gets tucked into bed. Her favorite posts are the photos of all my little creature buddies, so this one is for you, cute little lady!

How cool is this shot? I have to wonder if the photographer just happened upon this scene, or if they had to construct the situation manually. In any case, fuzzy caterpillars make my heart swell.

Sweet dreams, tiny Mia!
& Happy Wednesday, readers.

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Nature Update!

We have been anxiously waiting for weeks while Baby Cap munched his way towards pupating, and last night it finally happened. He molted his caterpillar skin for the last time, exposing the light brown chrysalis that will transform him into a butterfly. It was particularly difficult to get a shot of the chrysalis because it is in the screened enclosure, but I was able to get one decent picture to share.

** I highly suggest you click on the picture of the furry moth, it’s of fantastic quality at greater size. **

While we are still on the nature theme, I wanted to start chronicling my experience growing sunflowers. My mom sent up a little do-it-yourself kit of sunflowers, in a package that also included killer rice krispies and my Dad’s awesome AE1 35mm. I planted them about two days ago, and they have already begun to sprout! I thought it would be a fun mini-project to document their growth, so enjoy.

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Nature Update

Every time I convince myself that my Black Swallowtail Caterpillar can’t get any juicier, he devours another stalk of his fennel plant and fattens up even more. I am astonished at both his rate of growth, and the beefing up of my smaller moth caterpillar. I snagged a shot of the smaller one right after he molted – you can spot his small old body discarded at the bottom of his leaf.

Included alongside the caterpillar update are a few shots I took in the backyard this afternoon while Niko and I looked for a good branch for Baby Cap to pupate on. I found a little red mushroom right behind my bedroom window, and came across a gooey slug enjoying his fungus dinner over near our rotting logs in the back.

Continue reading

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Caterpillar Update

Baby Cap has reached his final instar, and is ready to pupate. He devoured an entire stalk of fennel in a few hours. Baby Moth molted last night, spurring a momentary ‘Wow, we have a third caterpillar – where’d he come from?!’ The fennel plant is also thriving, which is a relief after watching the first host plant wither up and die.

Here are some pictures of the growing buddies. Check out the pictures of Baby Cap’s fully developed osmeterium. My good friend Eric O’Rear came over yesterday, and got a kick out of agitating Baby Cap so his osmeterium popped up. It also emits an absolutely foul odor that stunk up my entire room. I’d like to get some better shots of it, but I hate to bother the poor little guy.

I’d like to take this time to remind everyone that when I found Baby Cap on the fennel plant, he was barely noticeable because he was so minuscule. He was as thin as a paperclip and not even the length of my smallest fingernail. Now he’s as fat as my fingers, and a good 2.5 inches long. Mother Nature is a fantastic force.

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Pictures of the Caterpillars!

The time has finally come, here are the much anticipated photos of my caterpillars. Baby Cap has reached his final instar, which are the phases that a caterpillar goes through prior to pupating. He is getting really bulbous and his stripes are perfectly defined. I just want to give his little body a nice squeeze, he’s so squishy. I’ll keep everyone updated over the next few days as he starts to build his chrysalis.

Hopefully more photos will come, but I’m still nervous about using the flash on them. Enjoy!

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Caterpillar Update

This morning we had a breakthrough with Baby Cap!

I was moving his host fennel plant outside, because it was growing limp from a lack of sunlight (thank you, Tallahassee weather). Baby Cap had inched his way to the very top of the enclosure, so the swaying of the weakened fennel stalks agitated him. That’s when I noticed his little orange osmeterium flaring out of the top of his head, flashing a wormy, forked warning. He is growing so fast, I can’t wait for him to pupate.

I’m going to go pick up a new host plan for Baby Cap sometime today. The poor fennel plant I bought him hasn’t fared well at all in this dismal weather, and I’m afraid that the few hours of sunlight it got this morning won’t be enough to spur it back to life. The last thing I need is my baby caterpillar being undernourished right before he molts.

I promise to post photos of Baby Cap and his enclosure as soon as possible. I’m weary of using a flash on him because he is so sensitive in his larval stage. Niko and I might build a larger enclosure this weekend with some great new wire we found in his garage, which is much more malleable than what we previously used.

Time to go pull the little muncher back inside before the afternoon rain picks up again. PS: Has anyone checked out the weather forecast for Tallahassee? My iPhone shows a week of straight thunderclouds. Where’s my summertime sunshine?

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Driving to Tallahassee Taekwondo Academy every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon, I pass a quaint little nursery on Centerville Road. I have always been intrigued by the hanging gourds, towering plants, and tempting cottage shop that filled the grounds of Native Nurseries.

There is always a little message written on a large chalkboard stand that sits at the driveway entrance to the nursery. Last week as I passed by, I read ‘FREE BLACK SWALLOWTAIL CATERPILLARS’ – and immediately knew that I wanted some. Raising caterpillars is my new summer hobby.

I wrangled Niko to come with me the next morning, and I was absolutely enchanted by everything that Native Nurseries has to boast in its small sprawl of land. Not only is the place cute enough for a postcard to send to Grandma, but this fantastic locally-owned operation caters specifically to the native flora of Tallahassee. The cheerful woman that helped us was loaded with information, and tips. She flitted around the rows of plants, telling us which would work best in Niko’s vegetable garden, and which plants would attract the most visitors for my butterfly garden.

It would have been too easy to blow my entire paycheck on blueberry bushes and bird seed, but I settled on a healthy-looking milk weed plant and a small fennel plant. According to the Native Nurseries employee, milk weed is ideal for luring in Monarch butterflies because it serves as both a source of nectar for adults, and has plentiful leaves for larvae to munch on. The fennel was bought specifically for the Black Swallowtail caterpillars.

Words can hardly describe how excited I was when my little buddy was scooped up into a small paper bag and given to me. I named him ‘Cappy’ and spent the rest of the night watching him devour strands of fennel. Niko and I bought screen, a large plastic dish, and some thick metal wiring to construct Cappy a nice habitat.

After we put Cappy and some fennel in the newly-built enclosure, I noticed a tiny speck wiggling about on one of the branches. It was a minuscule baby caterpillar, appropriately dubbed ‘Baby Cap.’ Good thing I found him, because Cappy died sometime the next day. We speculated that he was probably ill from when I picked him up at the nursery. I refuse to think that I somehow contributed to his death.

Anyways, Baby Cap is growing like a beanstalk and I cannot wait to watch him begin to pupate. Photos of the little mister shall be posted soon, but until then, here’s a fantastic shot of a Black Swallowtail with his osmeterium pokin’ out:

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