I showed you a photo of our caterpillars yesterday on these pages. I thought I'd tell their story today. These caterpillars have been showing up all over the neighborhood lately. They were everywhere in our yard: on bushes, in the lawn, crawling up the house. The kids were thrilled to find such interesting creatures to play with. They wanted to keep some, so I found a jar and we started with two, one for each of them. I searched on the internet (what did we ever do before Google?) and figured out they are silver spotted tiger moth caterpillars. They feed on conifers, primarily Douglas-fir, which are extremely common here. The caterpillars overwinter and come out in May and June, then make cocoons and turn into the moths later in the summer. Sometimes they can be considered a pest. Honestly, I don't remember seeing them before, so maybe this year they are having a population explosion.
Anyway, the kids kept sneaking in more caterpillars when I wasn't looking. The container got upgraded to include dirt (to catch the poop) rocks and various sticks for them to crawl on. Every day they got to come out to play at least once or twice. We got to watch them molt a few times, and leave their old skin in the bottom of the container. Suddenly, one day we awoke to find the first cocoon had been made and occupied. The caterpillars shed their hairs and bind them together with silk that they make. They crawl inside and thicken the cocoon from the inside. Then they metamorphose. We have five or six cocoons now in two containers on our nature table.
The caterpillars seem to be disappearing outside, too, and we have found cocoons hidden on the house. But we had an unnerving experience last week when Annika was playing with one that shed all over her hands. The minute, fine hairs stuck to and in her skin, causing irritation and pain. A call to the nurse hotline and then to poison control helped us figure out what to do. First we tried duck tape to get the hairs off. That didn't work, so we tried having her play with a paste of baking soda and water. She didn't like that, and it didn't seem to help anyway. Then we put her in the tub to soften her skin. Many of the hairs seemed to fall out with that, and she was complaining less after her bath. Finally we spread liquid children's Benadryl on her hands and bandaged them up and put her to bed for the night. That seemed to do the trick, because she was better the next morning, though I could still see some hairs on her hands and fingers.
I felt bad, because though I had researched the caterpillars, the websites I had found originally didn't say anything about these particular critters being irritating. I found some more after this episode, though, and they said that they can sometimes be irritating to some people. Well, now we know, and the kids are forbidden from playing with their charges any more.
I'll keep you posted if any of them come out of their cocoons. Their habitats are pretty smelly, so I hope they haven't died. It has been really fun for me to follow my kids' lead in this; I don't remember raising caterpillars like this when I was a kid. I'm glad I get to have a second chance at childhood through them!