What are caterpillars?

Caterpillars are a type of minibeast! Butterflies and moths start their lives as caterpillars, slowly growing and changing into butterflies and moths. The process begins when they’re an egg. They then reach the larval phase, and they become caterpillars. During this stage, they eat constantly and start to outgrow their skin – which they shed several times as it gets too small.

Once the last shed occurs, the caterpillar latches onto a branch and forms a cocoon out of silk for protection. Inside the cocoon, the caterpillar undergoes a metamorphosis. This is the scientific name for all the changes in the cocoon to turn them into butterflies and moths. For example, the six front legs turn into adult legs and form wings.

Did you know that the average lifespan of a caterpillar is three to four weeks until they change into their adult forms?

Fun Caterpillar Facts for Kids:

  1. Caterpillars eat a lot; in fact, they can be 100 times larger than when it’s emerged from the egg!
  2. Caterpillars have six eyes – they are called ocelli or stemmata. Their eyes can see the light but cannot see an image or colors.
  3. They don’t have lungs.
  4. A caterpillar’s gut moves on its own.
  5. Caterpillars don’t have teeth.

The Life Cycle of Caterpillars and Butterflies

Have you ever wondered what happens inside the cocoon during the caterpillar-into-butterfly process? We can’t see inside, but it is a bit like magic! How does one thing become another? Read on to find out all the caterpillar to butterfly stages of development:

  1. During the first stages of the process, the caterpillar digests itself. That’s right – it eats itself! If you opened the cocoon during this stage, it would contain a lot of caterpillar goop. However, the transformation doesn’t end there since the caterpillar has competent cells which know how to rebuild themselves into adult butterfly cells. These cells are called imaginal cells and are like human stem cells.
  2. Once everything is digested, except for the imaginal cells, the next stage of caterpillar-to-butterfly transformation can begin. During this second stage, the imaginal cells use all the nutrients that the caterpillar got from eating all those leaves and plants as energy to grow. It grows all the wings, legs, and other bits and pieces that a grown-up butterfly needs.
  3. Eventually, the caterpillar no longer exists. Instead, tucked within the cocoon is a beautiful butterfly (or moth!) ready to burst out and spread its wings. The caterpillar-into-butterfly process is complete!

How long does it take for a caterpillar to become a butterfly?

Most butterflies transform from their caterpillar selves into butterflies in around 9 to 14 days. However, this does depend on the species of butterfly. It can take different lengths of time, depending on the species.

How long does it take for a caterpillar to make a cocoon?

It usually takes between 5 and 21 days for a caterpillar to make a cocoon. Then, they stay inside it while they transform. For example, some caterpillars make chrysalis and become butterflies, while others make cocoons before becoming moths.

What do caterpillars eat?

Caterpillars feed on plants; most will feed on leaves, whereas others munch on other parts, such as seeds and flowers. However, there are two types of caterpillars regarding eating- generalists and specialist feeders. Generalists eat various plants; an example is a mourning cloak caterpillar.

Only a few caterpillars are carnivores, which means they feed on insects like aphids and plants. These are specialist feeders.

Where is a caterpillar’s habitat?

A caterpillar lives in a habitat with many plants, trees, and flowers, so an adult butterfly or moth can lay its eggs for the process to start again. To look for caterpillars, you may find them on the underside of leaves. They usually hide during the day, using leaves and grass to hide in as they protect themselves from predators — they come alive at night to feed.

Caterpillars like the sun, but shade is also needed to keep them happy. An excellent way to find a caterpillar’s habitat is to look for gnawed leaves; this is usually an indicator of their presence.

Did you know that you can find caterpillars anywhere, from sandy beaches to mountains – even in some arctic areas?

How can I help attract more caterpillars and butterflies?

To see more butterflies in your garden, you need to start by attracting more caterpillars. There are lots of plants you can include in your garden to help. Here are just a few:

  • Dill
  • parsley
  • hackberry
  • lime
  • lemon
  • nettles
  • Willow

Adding one of these to your garden will attract more caterpillars/butterflies, which will lay eggs and help produce even more! These host plants help the current butterflies and the ones in the future.

How can I make my caterpillar habitat?

You can make one of two habitats – open or enclosed. Here is how you can make an enclosed habitat:

  1. You’ll need to find a suitable container to hold the caterpillar – one that provides air holes for oxygen. (Each caterpillar should have at least three times its body length in space, so keep this in mind when finding a container.)
  2. Add a plant to the caterpillar’s new habitat; common plants could include Sunflowers, Snapdragon, Aster, and Hollyhock. Caterpillars get their moisture from these plants, so having one is essential.
  3. Avoid keeping the habitat enclosure in direct sunlight.
  4. Make sure you clean the enclosure regularly and clean out their bodily functions (e.g., urine and feces) daily.

You can also make an open caterpillar habitat at home! Here is how to do this:

  1. Find an open container – it could be a bucket, a cup, or a container, or it could be a potted plant.
  2. Like the enclosed habitat, you’ll need to add a host plant for the caterpillar. You can add the whole plant or some cuttings and clippings from one. If you add an entire plant, make sure it gets lots of light to allow it to keep growing friendly and healthy.
  3. You may need to add a screen or net to protect the caterpillars from predators – this is if you choose to keep it outside.
  4. Once built, observe the habitat closely by cleaning it out and keeping an eye on the caterpillar/s.

What threats do caterpillars face?

Caterpillars have natural predators, including wasps, birds, and parasites.

Climate change is another threatening factor; for example, climate change is causing significant habitat loss and threatens North American monarch butterflies with extinction. This is because the higher levels of carbon dioxide make milkweed, the only food monarch caterpillars eat, into a toxic form.

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