gather and observe


I was leaning towards this being a wordless post (making sentences…too hard…tired brain,) but then realized that might leave too many questions, and that wouldn’t be very nice of me…

Late last summer my kids had a great time hunting and gathering caterpillars to keep in jars in order to watch them metamorphose into butterflies and moths.  It was still early enough that we were able to watch most of them emerge in the weeks that followed.  Seth was heavily influenced by A Girl of the Limberlost which he read shortly after I did (a must read) and led the rest of the kids on their hunts.

This year they didn’t go looking for caterpillars, but happened upon some interesting looking ones while climbing in our maple trees last week.  They were identified using our Caterpillars of Eastern North America field guide and placed in a jar with a handful of maple leaves.  Further research revealed that they pupate underground, so a layer of soil was added to the bottom of the yarn. ( As I reread this post, I noticed that the word “yarn” should actually be “jar” but I am leaving that typo in because it amuses me.  I’m pretty sure this isn’t the first time I’ve typed the word yarn in place of another object.)  Within 24 hours all five caterpillars had pupated and they are now residing in the bottom of a milk jug filled with soil.  We placed the milk jug in a hanging butterfly cage and will wait to see the colorful little moths emerge, maybe not until next spring because we have placed the cage outside and it is late in the season.  The same cage that we bought can also be purchased as a live butterfly kit complete with live caterpillars if you don’t live in an area where you can find caterpillars easily. This one is maybe a better option, but I wanted the larger hanging cage that comes with the other.

p.s.  If you are a family of nature nerds like we are, you might enjoy this fantastic new blog!


  1. Look into The Girl of the Limberlost film. It was one of my favorites as a child.

  2. How fun! Those caterpillars are so cool looking. Things like these make me look so forward to having kids (among other things, of course!) because I get to learn cool stuff too!

    Totally unrelated-I read another article the other day about colony collapse disorder and I always always think of you and Johnny because you keeping bees is just so awesome and helpful and important. My husband and I can’t wait to live somewhere that we can have bee hives.

  3. I love when you show or mention the books that you are using or reading. The caterpillar book is on my wishlist now. A while ago you mentioned that the olders boys were reading the adventures of Tintin. These are not in our library but I am looking in to them for Christmas for my 9 year old. I noticed that the books are dated in the 70’s and 2011-2013. Do you or your boys have a preference?

  4. I was a caterpillar girl myself and used to love rubbing their soft, fuzzy backs while sitting on the front step just being a kid. These are the memories to savor. Love the photos!

  5. Envision me clapping my hands fast……yipee! Can’t wait for the outcome!

  6. that is so great. i wonder what they shall look like.

  7. Loved this. going to look for the book.

  8. Going to do this with the grandchildren. Thanks so much.

  9. So very interesting.

  10. That is one of my favorite books.

  11. Kate Talley says:

    I just bought Girl Of The Limberlost at a thrift store on Saturday. Now I’m intrigued to start it. I couldn’t help but notice how big Keat’s hands look. Almost like man hands. Kids grow up so fast. A girl in a tree, your guy with grown up looking hands….sigh. I hope you are continuing to maintain a bit of movement. Staying absolutely still is so unbearable for me! Not too much longer now, right? A month? Sending love, Kate Talley
    P.s. what do need help knitting? Id love to work on and send you something practical.

  12. How exciting it will be if they wait until spring — I imagine the kids will have forgotten about them by then. We did butterflies this year (the kind you order with the cage) and I think it will be an annual event. Except for the cat getting ahold of them (no deaths– just very annoying!). I do like the idea of underground pupating, however — seems much cleaner, although that sounds quite contrary.

  13. That’s an awesome butterfly cage you have there. We are definitely a nature family here (isn’t it funny how some folks aren’t?) – we have five swallowtails in various stages in my kitchen here, rescued from my herb bed. Though your jars of caterpillars remind us most of Oliver Melendy. ‘In each glass jar Oliver had put some earth or a strong twig, depending on whether the creature in question was a burrower or a weaver. Even Cuffy and Mona found themselves interested in the progress of the cocoons: they were so ingenious, beautifully knitted, and in some cases lovely to look at…’

  14. I love that you left the yarn mistake in and then explained it 🙂

  15. Very cool! We purchased the kit and cage complete with caterpillars a couple of years ago, and my kids loved it. I will have to check out A Girl of the Limberlost. 🙂

  16. It has been too long since I read A Girl of the Limberlost …

    I have to admit that encountering caterpillars often leaves me a bit queasy, but I love the idea of the kids going hunting for them and watching them change. I am excited for when my boys are old enough to do this. 🙂

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