We have about 20-30 swallow tail caterpillars in our butterfly net cage.
No, that last sentence doesn’t belong in a totally different post. Let me continue. . .
We have swallowtail caterpillars because when Scott was cutting the grass Saturday morning he excitedly called the kids over to a place in the yard where the weeds were as tall as our two year old.
LOOK! SWALLOWTAIL CATERPILLARS! HUNDREDS OF THEM! He yelled, turning off the mower.
A year ago, my husband had no idea what a swallowtail caterpillar was or even looked like. God Bless Scott, but his idea of wilderness is an uncut rough on the side of the 16th fairway.
Okay, maybe he’s not that bad, and truth be told, last year I didn’t know what a swallowtail caterpillar or butterfly was either.
But, Maddie had Mrs. Eoff and Mrs. Eoff is all about nature. Her classroom is as close to a zoo as you can have and still not be required to have a full time vet on staff.
Into our butterfly enclosure went our caterpillar.
We researched what swallowtails ate and tried to find those plants in the field next to our house. In a few days we watched in amazement as that caterpillar climbed the gray stick we stuck in the enclosure and turned into a brownish chrysalis right before our eyes.
We put the enclosure on the kitchen counter eager to watch the butterfly emerge. And we watched and watched and watched and. . .nothing happened. Actually, the chrysalis seemed to dry up and begin to decay.
I was just about to throw it out. . .admitting animal planet failure. . .when I looked up from washing dishes one afternoon and THERE WAS A BUTTERFLY.
SCOTT! I yelled. THERE’S A BUTTERFLY! He raced into the kitchen from his office.
We felt like proud parents all over again. We even took a video of the darn thing—we were that amazed. I inserted a juicy cut-up orange into the enclosure as a congratulatory gesture–it had been in that chrysalis for weeks without any food or water!
When the children came home from school that afternoon they released the butterfly into the field, following it as it bounced from plant to plant until it flew over the trees and they lost sight of it.
This year Will has Mrs. Eoff. It is a match made in heaven as he has a penchant for anything bug/lizard/grub/spider/caterpillar related. Early in the year he carried oversized grubs dug up in my garden back and forth to school for an entire week. Unfortunately, Mrs. Eoff was absent for most of that week and the substitute didn’t demonstrate the same enthusiasm for oversized grubs that Mrs. Eoff would have. So, every morning Will dutifully set off with his slimy treasures in a plastic bug box filled with almost-done compost, hoping that that would be the day of her return and they could both share in the excitement of giant grubs.
Which leads me back to the swallowtails in the backyard on Saturday.
The kids collected as many as they could. Even Marc, who was pouting inside over some parental infraction, ran happily outside when he heard about the treasure trove of swallowtail caterpillars—forgetting why he was mad in the first place. They filled the butterfly cage with them and Scott went to Google a picture of “milkweed” so that we could scour the filled for this delicacy of the swallowtail.
And–this is my point: Without Mrs. Eoff, most likely Scott would have just run his lawn mower over the weeds and chalked up the caterpillars as a form of backyard road kill.
Mrs. Eoff, though, taught the entire family about this loveliest of butterflies and we are better for knowing. We have learned how to identify the caterpillars, how to identify their habitat and collect their food, how to patiently wait even when the chrysalis seems shriveled up.
As a family, like last year, we will marvel at how they cocoon themselves and we will revel in their breaking through–and we will cheer when we release them into the field and they fly away.
Truly, hasn’t Mrs. Eoff just given us a lesson in life?