We fed him milkweed leaves for a little over a week. One morning he began pacing back and forth across the top of his jar. That evening, he hung upside down in a J shape. The next morning, he was still hanging, but sometime between getting the kids dressed and making Aaron's lunch, he shed his last skin and revealed a beautiful chrysalis.
After that, things were a little boring for about 10 days. Then on Sunday evening, we could see that the chrysalis was getting darker. Early the next morning, it looked about the same, but about two hours later, I walked into the kitchen and found a beautiful butterfly hanging from his chrysalis shell. It was so exciting. That evening, we took Stripey outside and let him fly away. He took to the skies beautifully.
Being an eyewitness to Stripey's transformation was incredible. If you ever have the opportunity to raise a caterpillar, do it.
When my sister-in-law found the caterpillar and offered him to us, I was nervous. I was sure I'd do something wrong and he would die and we'd all be heartbroken. But I went ahead with it because I thought my kids would love it. They did, of course, but I was surprised how much I enjoyed the entire process as well. And you know what? It was so much easier than I was expecting.
If you want to try this but, like me, are a little scared, here are some tips to allay your fears:
He doesn't need a fancy home
At first, I stressed about what to put him in. We finally decided on a large mason jar. My sister-in-law had some screen netting she let us cut a piece of, and we just rubber banded it over the top. We crisscrossed a couple of sticks in the jar, but really, the only thing Stripey was interested in was food. I think we really could have put him anywhere, and as long as he had food and water (and air), he would have been happy.
A milkweed leaf is a milkweed leaf
One thing you do need is a milkweed crop. Luckily, my sister-in-law knew where some was by her house and also by Aaron's school. Every morning, we picked a new leaf and put it in Stripey's jar. After he crawled onto it, I took out the remains of the old leaf (and dumped out all his poop). I was continually amazed by how much that little guy could eat. And he wasn't picky. When it came to leaves, a milkweed leaf was a milkweed leaf. Small, medium, or large, it was all the same to him.
If he isn't moving, he isn't dead
Sometimes Stripey wouldn't move for several hours or even a whole day. At those points, I always thought we must have killed him. But no, he was just molting his skin. Sometimes we could see the skin left behind on a leaf, and sometimes he ate it before we saw it, but he always started moving again.
Give him space
After he came out of his chrysalis, I transferred him to a mesh laundry basket so he could practice flying around a little before we let him go. From the time he came out at 8:30 in the morning until we let him go at 6:00 in the evening, I didn't feed him anything. I read online that they don't need anything for the first 18-24 hours, so we just let him go before then.
He's not as fragile as you think
Through the whole process, I kept telling myself, "Most caterpillars do this outside where the temperature fluctuates and it's windy and rainy and there are predators. He can handle having his jar moved around by a four-year-old." If we do it again, I think I won't be so nervous about having my kids help me feed him or move him around.
Blink and you might miss it
One thing that surprised me was how quickly the transformation from caterpillar to chrysalis and chrysalis to butterfly happened. There were definitely some warning signs (hanging in the J shape, the chrysalis changing color), but it seemed like the actual change happened in a matter of minutes. We missed both changes, and if we do it again, I think we'll definitely spend more time around the jar during those critical moments, so we don't miss it.
Farewell, Stripey! May Mexico live up to all your hopes and dreams . . .
I can't find Stripey in this picture, but I know he's there somewhere.