Searching the milkweed patch for Monarch caterpillars to raise is an late summer tradition for families and classrooms, but poor weather conditions and damage to winter habitat has led to a 90% decline in Monarchs this year and they are very tough to find. So, are there other caterpillars that we can collect this fall? Larry Clarfeld from the North Branch Nature Center tells us there are.
"If you are a person like me, who likes to collect caterpillars and see what they do to turn into the beautiful butterflies, are there any other options?"
"The good news is for the caterpillar enthusiast is that there are hundreds of other native species of butterflies and moths that can easily be raised either at home or in the classroom."
"So that little yellow caterpillar is just as cute as any monarch!"
"Well, it is, and there is such an incredible variety of beautiful caterpillars. This one is called a definite tussock moth. You can find caterpillars on almost any type of plant. Different types of caterpillars have specific preferences for plants, so the more variety of plants you look at, the more variety of caterpillars you'll find."
"So what do you do if you find a caterpillar and you don't know what it is?"
"Well there are lots of different great identification tools for people, even if you have no experience identifying these guys.There's a great project called the Vermont Atlas of Life, where you can post pictures of not just caterpillars, but any living things and have them identified for you.
There's also a great web site called bug guide.net, or you can always get in touch with your local nature center."
"So, once you find out what it is, then you can find out how to take care of it, and what it's going to turn into."
"Exactly, because you can't just feed any caterpillar any kind of plant. They have specific plants that they need to eat, but if you are able to identify your caterpillar, you should be able to raise it."
"And you know what to expect. Some of them turn into butterflies and moths fairly quickly, but others need to over winter right?"
"Exactly, some will need to burrow under the ground to make their cocoon, some will make their cocoon on a branch."
"Now that I've been leaning on this tree, there's a caterpillar crawling on me! Do you know what this is?"
"I don't, right off the bat! ha ha. But this is one of the ways you find caterpillars. Sometimes the caterpillars actually find you! And we know we found this caterpillar crawling on a birch tree, knowing what plant or tree you found that caterpillar on is a very important clue towards identifying it. So we know what it looks like, we know what kind of tree it was on, and so now we have the tools that we need to figure out what it is and what it will turn into."
PO Box 4508