Thursday, February 22, 2018


After a month of raising nine little ones, there is a sense of pride in what is happening.  It has been said that only 2% of caterpillars make it to maturity in the wild.  So, with any luck, our nine babies will achieve 100% success.  They have already mastered eating and pooping and growing.  Time will tell how they fare on this next round.

Pupa - Latin for doll.  It is the life stage of insects that undergo a complete metamorphosis in their transformation between immature and mature stages.  Many are familiar with the act of metamorphosis but if you are like us you have no real idea what exactly is taking place.  So, Nicole did a bit of research and this is what she found out. 

As the caterpillar goes through the larvae stage of eating, pooping and growing, juvenile hormones are produced and released to tell it when to molt.

Number Nine, pictured above, is preparing to molt again.  Sure hope he grows this time!

At some point, the caterpillar reaches its final instar, the juvenile hormone decreases and the caterpillar is stimulated to pupate.  At this point, it is no longer interested in eating and begins to wander and look for a safe place to complete the next stage of its development.

In the case of our Empyreuma affinis babies, they do laps around the large storage tote that they are currently housed in.  Due to their new desire to wander away form their food source, a cover with paper towels and some holes punched in it has been put on top.

Now that #1 has found his desired pupation spot, it is time to spin a silken cocoon all around himself.

For a while Nicole thought that the caterpillar's hairs just fell out and into the web.  But after spying on #1 one as he worked one night she learned that he was actually pulling them out and weaving them in.  Oh, and look!  #2 has found himself a spot to settle in for the change.

What happens next had Nicole quite concerned.

She wakes to find #1, motionless and legs up in his hairy net.  And he stays this way, for over 24 hours!

Is he dead? 

Was this a failed pupation? 

No, thank goodness.  This is the beginning of an amazing transformation.

Oh and look whose joined the party.  #3 has found a suitable spot. 

And, #2 has nearly completed what Nicole has dubbed the Active Building (pulling hairs to put in web) phase.

OK  Here is your warning.  The next few photos of #1 could be considered seriously creepy if the process wasn't so damn fascinating and amazing!

We'll put the sharing off for a few more sentences by telling you that before a caterpillar even hatches from its egg it possesses bundles of cells that are destined to be the parts of the winged adult it will become.  In the case of our babies, Empyreuma pugione - the Spotted Oleander Caterpillar Moth is what they will become.  These bundles of cells are called Imaginal Discs.  All of the parts needed to make a moth are there, waiting, lying dormant until the decrease in Juvenile Hormone kicks them into action. 

What happens next?  Well,  #1 completes his final molt and then...

Um....  he begins to  'melt' in front of our eyes.    <<< speechless>>>

The change happens quickly and yet subtly.  You almost don't believe your eyes as you are watching it.

Nicole was filming just seconds before because she 'thought' she saw something but then wasn't sure.  She went to review on the video camera and it had begun.  So, instead of returning to filming she just snapped a few photos here and there.

#1 will never again be that cute little spotted crawler but hopefully in adult form will make many more cute little crawlers.

The pile of hair and skin at the tail end is #1's final molt.  Still a few more of those tell tale white spots to be seen.

Hopefully, you are noticing the ongoing changes.  Yes, he has turned over.

Some of the phases have beautiful coloring.  The eyes are taking shape on top and the striping on front is the legs, antennae and proboscis of the soon to be moth.

The wings are on the side of the pupa.

And, now.... we wait. 

For about two weeks, this is what #1 will look like while mother nature continues to form the beautiful red-winged moth that will emerge and continue the cycle.

Meanwhile... back in Pupa Corner, #2 is heading toward the phase Nicole has now named Suspended Animation.

After the cat finishes pulling hair and inserting it into the web it goes into a slow dive, of sorts.  First the anal prolegs detach from the roof, then the thoracic legs and then the abdominal prolegs in pairs.  In the above photo, this little one is now only hanging on by two sets of abdominal prolegs.  Not long after...


And not too long after that...

#2 on the left  #1 on the right

Oh and we said #3 had joined the party.  Well...

Not wanting to be left out, #3 drops in to change.

Meanwhile, someone else has started to make the rounds.  Welcome, #4 as #3 begins to 'melt'.

#3 is done and it seems #4 has found a suitable building location.

Is it cheating or just plain smart to mooch off of your neighbors web?

Well, there isn't really any time to consider it.  Mother Nature will do as she pleases either way.

As of this evening, this is what one corner of our caterpillar world looks like.  Three cats pupated and one nearly there.

And, what is going on with the other side of our caterpillar world?

Still lots of eating, pooping and growing.  Oh, and Number Nine finally grew and is now 3/4"!!!