Caterpillar condos and prior (and post) accommodations...
Here's where they live. This
is a 1qt yogurt container filled nearly to the top with water.
The center of the plastic top has been cut out, and a piece of
sheet plastic placed between the container and the top and stretched
fairly tight. Holes are poked into the sheet plastic for the
stems of fennel cuttings to reach the water. The cats stay out
of the water this way, and the fennel not only stays fresh, it
actually grows. Well, it tries to, but it's generally a losing
battle with the cats.
The rubber band (or string, cable
tie, etc.) keeps the branches from falling outward.
This arrangement works pretty well. Chewed-up branches can
just be pulled out and new ones stuck in. You can put this in an enclosure, too.
The 6oz container shown below may also be used for very young
caterpillars. There are several more cats here (much maller ones)
than the two visible ones, both of whom are about ready to begin
The fennel fronds that are found with eggs or very tiny 1st
instar caterpillars can go in individual 25ml volumetric flasks
(University discards)...these are the bassinets. Easier to keep
track of the little ones this way. Can't easily see the cats from this far away, though.
Fast-forward a week or two in condo-land: when a caterpillar hits his/her midlife crisis and starts roaming, and especially after she/he has pupated, it's wise to keep him/her somewhere safe where you can keep an eye on the little devil. Costco sells mixed salad greens in nice transparent containers, and these make very good post-condo quarters---a quick glance or two gets you the status of the entire population:
Below is the view from the top, sans lid [the pupas sitting on the paper towel are ones that were carefully peeled off of vertical surfaces in bad neighborhoods]:
Kathy also uses these containers as shoe-boxes. I had to wrestle this one away from her. The biggest challenge entailed in using these nice boxes is peeling off the sticky label without leaving most of it behind on the plastic. It'll test both your patience and your manual dexterity.
Can you spot the roamer in these three pics?
Below is a transparent plastic container (lid removed for the pic; the container was from the bulk-foods dept at a grocery store). It's another easy option to house pupas that are for one or another reason not attached anywhere else. The paper towel allows the emerged butterfly to climb up and hang so that its wings can properly unfold and inflate and dry.
Notice the pupa with the butterfly stripes---the main hint that it's about to emerge. About 15 minutes after the above pic was taken, the butterfly emerged.
New enclosure for cat housing!!
The problem of roaming greenies wandering away is ever-present, so I went to Urban Ore (a recycler of building materials, tools, a wide variety of household junk and bric-a-brac, and other cast-off stuff that defies categorization) in Berkeley and found a small aquarium for sale cheap. The walls are glass and they are glued together with what looks like clear silicone sealer and are nicely framed with the black plastic pieces. I removed the fish-related parts that were no longer needed and was left with a perfect caterpillar community enclosure.
The yogurt container is the same approach as before, although I am not using a lid
or plastic sheeting across the top because I only keep older and wiser (that is, much less likely to fall into the water) cats in this enclosure.
When cats in the enclosure are ready to roam, they climb around and usually end up settling on a stem or on a side or the underside of the cover (see below). That is, not in places where they can get in trouble and that I have to search to find. Easy!!!
Here's the top view, showing the simple slitted cover that just sits up there. The hole makes it easy to pick
up with a crooked finger, and I cover the hole with a piece of chopped-down credit card when I am not about to lift it.
The slits allow circulation of air and also provide a handy place for roaming cats to pupate and butterflies to get their claws into after they emerge and wish to hang upside-down. You can see in the shot below a few pupas attached to the underside of the lid.
The underside of the lid is shown below. The upper-left pupa is empty, as its butterfly emerged the morning this pic was taken. It was found hanging upside-down (the preferred position, of course!) at 7am with its wings still inflating.
It was released into the sunshine about two hours later.
This enclosure greatly simplifies the keeping of larger caterpillars. To clean it of frass, I just lift out the yogurt container and set it aside, then turn the enclosure upside-down outside to dump the frass, thereby fertilizing, in a small way, the side yard! Then I place new paper towels to line the bottom, plop the yogurt container (after dumping funky old frassy water if needed, and old fennel branches, and replacing with fresh clean water and fennel) back in and we're set to go another 4-5 days. Nice.