Taking care of caterpillars is not as easy as it looks

Pieris brassicae

Caterpillar close-up

Yes! The series of the Large White butterfly is finished. It was very interesting to follow their development, but I’m also somehow happy it’s done. Taking care of caterpillars and documenting their growth turned out to be more difficult than I expected.

Easy start

The kit I got from the Dutch Butterfly Association, contained five pupa, app. twenty caterpillars and two clusters with eggs. The pupa were very easy to care for; I just had to wait for the butterflies to come out, so I could, when the weather was right, set them free in the garden. The caterpillars were already too old to follow, so I only had to take care of them until they pupated. With only twenty of them that was very doable and they all got safely to the pupa stage.

A lot of photo sessions

It became more difficult when the eggs hatched. This was the group of caterpillars I was going to follow to document their growth and development. Because I didn’t know how long the caterpillar stage would take, I decided to do three series; every two, three and four days. Just to be sure. This meant a photo session almost every day, knowing that the majority of the shots were not going to be used for the series.
Taking care of sixty caterpillars wasn’t easy as well. In the beginning they are pretty small, but when they start growing, the also start eating a lot. And by a lot, I really mean a lot. I had to give them new cabbage leaves multiple times a day, because within a few hours, they were completely gone. And everything that goes in, also has to come out again at some point, so cleaning their cage quickly became a daily routine.

Cleaning

But how do you clean a box with sixty caterpillars? Fortunately, I had a few large fauna boxes, so the most easy solution was to put a paper towel and some fresh cabbage leaves in a second box and move them one by one. But as always, animals have a mind of their own and not all caterpillars agreed with my plan. Sometimes one of them was missing and later I found it totally elsewhere, because it got out while I was paying attention to one of the other caterpillars. Other animals just didn’t want to be moved and started to resist. You have to be really carefully because they are delicate animals, so the easiest way to move them, was to put them on a cabbage leaf with a brush and use the leaf to transport them to the clean cage. Sometimes it took over half an hour before everyone was in the new cage. For that matter, I’m pretty happy that this series is finished, but butterflies and caterpillars are still very remarkable animals, so if I get the chance to follow another butterfly species, I will certainly use the opportunity.

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