In case you missed it, I’ve been out trying to make up for lost time in the garden this month with a flurry of weeding, digging and planting. Roo has been out helping me with her minis tool and wheelbarrow and has managed successfully not to brain the baby ever since I taught her that rakes must never be lifted above waist height! She has actually been pretty helpful – managing to weed a whole end of one of my raised beds before becoming distracted and switching to making mud animals instead. I’m still figuring out exactly which end of the mud zebra was which but it kept her busy for a nice long time!
When not weeding or creating lions, elephants or other exotic exhibits from our lowly British clay and gravel soil, she helped me out with a running commentary of observations on what my fork turned up. We found millipedes, centipedes, beetles and spiders. She got particularly excited by ladybirds on an aphid infested rose leaf and was pretty taken with a frog that made a sudden leap for freedom from the strawberries where hopefully it has been guarding our red gold. Nothing though compared to her fascination upon finding a chrysalis.
It turns out that my raised bed, which for the last 9 months has been given over to garden weeds of every imaginable variety, has been popular with the caterpillars. In one bed we found not one but five identical looking chrysalises!
Now Roo is a big fan of The Hungry Caterpillar. She was also a big fan of a library book which turned out to be pretty traumatic. Brief synopsis – caterpillar and tadpole fall in love and promise never to change, tadpole turns into frog, caterpillar gets a bit grumpy and goes off in a huff, caterpillar turns into butterfly and realises looks aren’t that important, goes to find frog, frog glumly looking for his love the caterpillar, sees tasty butterfly… well I’ll let you figure out the end of the tale. It doesn’t end well.
All this reading about caterpillars and butterflies though has caused a great deal of curiosity in my tot and hence her excitement over our garden finds. Last year I asked the Butterfly Conservation Trust their tips on getting kids interested in butterflies and they suggested rearing caterpillars as well as checking out their fab Munching Caterpillar site so I thought we could give it a go.
The last time I reared a caterpillar was as a child and ironically it also involved trauma! I remember waiting for ages for the chrysalis to turn into a butterfly and was so excited when a beautiful Elephant Hawk Moth emerged. Reluctantly I went with my Mum to release it and watched it fly off. It had barely been out its improvised home of the last few weeks before a bird swooped down and ate it, right in front of my innocent eyes! I have never forgotten!
Hopefully that won’t happen with our chrysalis and Roo will just enjoy learning about the life-cycle of a butterfly/moth. After squealing in shock because the seemingly static object started wiggling in her hand, Roo installed the chrysalis in a makeshift home comprised of a squash bottle with the top cut off and covered in perforated cling. We’ve put it in some of the soil we found it in and I’ve made sure not to remove all the weeds in the vegetable garden (I know…how noble of me to not do any more weeding) so hopefully there is something with flowers to its taste when it finally emerges! I’ve tried to identify it but after squirreling about on Google for a bit, other than suspecting it is a moth not a butterfly, I’ve not go much further. We will just have to wait and see what emerges – or if you know what it is, do leave a comment and let me know!
So watch this space – I’ll give you an update as and when our chrysalis decides to make an appearance in flying form but until then, Roo gets to stare in fascination at her find at least once a day and her first-hand outdoor education continues.