Thursday, January 25, 2018

Eating, Pooping, Growing and Number Nine

The title says it all.  Just like tiny humans, our baby caterpillars have a pretty consistent routine of E, P and G. 

Day two started out with the unexpected birth of Number Nine.  Unexpected in that we had consistently counted eight the day before and there was no sign of a ninth egg.  Nonetheless, nine it was.

While Number Nine was still adjusting to life outside the egg, the rest of the gang had begun the serious work of devouring what they could of their host plant. 

We have begun to find pretty patterns on the leaves.  And a lot of frass (a.k.a. caterpillar poop).

One of our little ones thought they were funny making a picture of a caterpillar!

Our babies food source is refreshed for them every other day.  Caterpillars are very limited in their diet and many species will eat only the leaves of a particular plant.  When given the option of eating a different plant from what they are used to or starving, most would starve to death.

Knowing this, Nicole makes sure to not only take their fresh food from the oleander farm location where she acquired the eggs but also from the exact plant that their eggs had been laid on.


Caterpillars have jaws called mandibles which contain very sharp cutting surfaces.  They also have two maxillae (smaller mouth parts) which guide food into the mouth.  The maxillae also have taste cells which let the caterpillar know when food is or is not appropriate to eat.  Tiny antennae near the mouth parts provide a sense of smell.

Although they still remain rather close to each other on a regular basis, our little brood is developing into a variety of individual characters.

Like this one that likes to eat with its anal prolegs in the air.  They are cute little boogers, that's for sure!

We've got a couple of roamers, one who thus far appears spotless and a few straight up piglets, as well.  The morning of day three we were finally able to get an approximate measure on them of around 1/4 of an inch. 

After watching the little ones moving about, exploring, eating and pooping, the evening of day four was a bit confusing and somewhat worrisome as all of our little cats had become somewhat immobile.   But the morning of day five revealed a very good reason.

They were preparing for their first molt (also known as completion of their first Instar). 

A caterpillars skin does not grow with them.  It is more of an exterior shell than a skin (an exoskeleton to be exact).  Since they are eating so much they outgrow their skin and at some point must leave it behind.  Most caterpillars will go through four or five molts before being full size and ready to pupate.

First instar complete.  Exoskeleton left behind.  Starting second instar.   Our babies are growing up!

They are also growing into their adult looking selves which has confirmed that they are indeed Empyreuma affinis - the Spotted Oleander Caterpillar. YEAH!

                                         Boy am I glad to get out of that old skin!

My cute little silvery spots confirm that I am indeed the spotted oleander caterpillar mama Nicole had hoped for.

Fingers left in for reference.  After completing their first instar, our babies have grown an 1/8 of an inch reaching 3/8 inch in length.

Nicole was bummed to have to go to work on the day of first molt but Darlene sent her baby updates and somehow she made it through!  This work thing really gets in the way.

As day five came to a close, we noticed that we still had one tiny little cat and concluded that it must be Number Nine and it had not molted.  Bummer.  Hope it is o.k.

But in the morning we found Number Nine had just left the his or her old skin behind and also begun the second instar.

A day behind the others, Number Nine will spend today adjusting to new skin and getting his / her new hairdo in order.

Meanwhile, the rest of the army has become fully engaged in the process of growing up!

Size comparison.  Number Nine has some catching up to do.

Big brother / sister (a full day into their second instar)  dwarfing Number Nine who is fresh out of first molt.

Since we have them inside, every evening the cats get moved to a darker area of the house.

And in the mornings, we open up the blinds and let them enjoy the sunshine.

Ahhhhh.... the life.  New food brought fresh every other day, my frass cleaned up, no predators, few competitors, a mama who loves us and SUNSHINE!