About 2 weeks ago, my truly observant daughter spotted 4 lovely green, yellow, and black caterpillars on a potted parsley plant. She ran to get her bug park and put them in. A little sleuthing quickly told us that these are swallowtail caterpillars and they loved to feast on parsley (aha!) and rue. The next morning, I bought a rue plant from a very knowledgeable retired Purdue prof as a living food source for the little guys. We marveled at how quickly they were powering down the veggies and how quickly they were processing it into little pellets of caterpillar-poo as well as body growth. One by one they stopped their nearly 24/7 munching and hung themselves by little silken threads to sticks. I quickly researched–convinced that they wanted to form cocoons and I needed to figure out what they needed to do that. I was certain there was some basic building materials (leaves? dandelion fluff? ) that they needed to complete their life cycle.
Turns out that these little guys have everything they need to move on. Miraculously, they do not build a cocoon, but wriggle out of their skins and become a chrysalis. Watch it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YpVw_rqgZ_0&feature=related As if this is not amazing enough, they perform this entrancing dance of wriggling of their skins to become a chrysalis in under 10 minutes. As closely as we watched them, we never caught them in the act. Twice, I missed it by a few minutes. Their fresh green chrysalis quickly turns to a woody brown.
I think that is the most miraculous thing I have probably ever seen. Imagine we could shed our skins, turn ourselves into a completely sealed cocoon, and then turn ourselves into a gorilla. These tiny caterpillars just need leaves in order to transform themselves into one of the world’s loveliest butterflies. Proof to me that life will never lack wonder and that some of the most amazing things are happening right under our noses. Now we are awaiting the miracle of the butterflies.