Sunday, June 24, 2007

Childhood habits are not easily left behind

My new pet project:
When I awoke at the horrifyingly late hour of 11am today and limped woozily down for breakfast/brunch/lunch, my aunt informed me that she had found these large caterpillars in the rooftop garden that she keeps. I was fascinated and promised to go up and take a look, but while I was upstairs, she ended up bringing the two she'd found inside in a plastic egg carton case...haha. But what a delightful surprise! I told them what little I knew of the Sphingidae family, which these caterpillars belong to. And also how certain species are prone to parasitization by wasps, which lay their eggs in the caterpillar's body and essentially eat it from the inside out.

I'm not sure my aunt and cousins had really wanted to hear all of that. But in any case I've taken the larvae under my wing, and they are currently inhabiting a large plastic jar my aunt helped me set up, complete with air holes. I doubt any of my other aunts would have agreed to let me raise caterpillars, so I was extremely grateful for her help and enthusiasm.

We went upstairs, my aunt and I, to look for their host plants, two of which were completely stripped of leaves. We found a third caterpillar clutched to a fallen orchid, and it didn't look too happy. So it's also joined its brethren in the jar.

They are an impressive size, and I have been suddenly transported back to my childhood days of raising caterpillars by the dozens over the course of the summer, and the trial-and-error methods I went through to find out how to care for them. I really hope I can raise these guys to adulthood and see what they look like. While I cannot identify the caterpillars to species level, they have all the familiar characteristics of the Sphinx moths, and the adults are usually quite splendid.

They will definitely be accompanying me to the apartment I am moving into early July. All I need now is a reliable source of food. However, it seems that this host plant is popular, and a lot of the plants I saw out on the street were already stripped! I have never had to search for caterpillar food plants in a city before, where I may be chased by a building's owner for picking their plants. But my aunt assures me this particular plant is very common and more of a wildflower that sometimes gets planted outside buildings.

So, besides posting my adventures in the Isla Formosa, I'll also be recording the growth and progress of my newly acquired pets.

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