Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Beak and fins and drying paint

On a drying maple leaf just outside my door, my latest caterpillar sleeps in his half-inch chrysalis. Depending on the weather, he'll be there over the winter. I'll keep an eye on him, although it is something like watching paint dry.

Unless I start thinking about what is going on inside.

I always find this hard to imagine; a living thing takes all his working parts, dissolves them into a soup, and rebuilds them into something different. Without dying in the process.

That's some major self-surgery!

So once the caterpillar is tied down safely, he gets right to work; no time to lose. Here's the schedule for this little critter:

10 AM - start weaving the sling.
11:40 - sling is done.
11:40 to 2:00 - shake, shimmy and squirm to remove old skin.
2:30 PM - Old skin and hairs gone, shape changed (fins and beak added, feet gone), wing veins forming and visible.

2:30 PM
7:30 PM - Dots and colouring added. Wing veins complete.

Here you can see the veins of two wings, the forewings with dots along the vein, and the hind wings, shorter and underneath the first.

The caterpillar's mouth was set up for chewing leaves. When he is a butterfly, he will be drinking from a straw, instead. So the whole head has to be rebuilt. The new yellow and brown beak (almost like a bird's beak, except that it doesn't open) is the beginnings of the new mouthparts. He will also have to build new antennae; as a caterpillar, his antennae were tiny hairs.

He has "fins"now, like a shark's dorsal and pectoral fins. I don't know what function they may have; they will be left behind when the new butterfly emerges.

Beak to tail, day 6.
At some point in his development, the new legs will also be visible through the casing. Not yet; I couldn't find them today, even with a bright light shining through.

And the day before he emerges, the black dot on the forewings (two if he's a female), the brand-new butterfly feathers, will show up.

Better than watching paint.




1 comment:

  1. So interesting. We should have some around here but haven't found one yet!

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