I was thinking about how much the kids would enjoy it -- how amazing it would be for them to watch the transformation of a caterpillar to a butterfly... the circle of life.
What I didn't realize was how amazed I would be.
So, we got our jar of caterpillars.
Okay, so they didn't look exactly like this. But I didn't take a picture of our jar of caterpillars, so this picture will have to do. Actually, the caterpillars were not this cute. In fact, after a day or so of wanting to see what they were doing in their jar, the kids' interest in them dwindled quickly. (I was the one peeking at them a few times a day, watching in wonder as they ate their food at the bottom of the jar.)
The caterpillars gradually made their way up to the lid of the jar, hung themselves upside down, and began forming their chrysalis.
(Yes, major misconception. Caterpillars don't make cocoons. Beetles, flies, ants, wasps and fleas make cocoons. A cocoon is a covering made of silk that encloses a pupa, and a chrysalis is the pupa of a butterfly. The chrysalis is covered in a hard, chitnous shell. Note the difference: A cocoon is a covering of a pupa, and a chrysalis is a particular kind of pupa, usually with no enclosing cocoon. I know you'll sleep much better tonight having that all straightened out. You're welcome.... and thanks to WikiAnswers.com for helping me.)
I was hoping that one day, when I was peeking in on them, I would catch one forming their chrysalis. I'm not sure what I expected to see, but I wanted to see it. Just a glimpse of a part of the circle of life.
No luck. They did it when I wasn't looking.
When all the caterpillars were all cozy inside their chrysalis, we carefully transferred them to the "butterfly garden."
And then we waited.
After a few days of periodically checking in, the kids decided that these dried-up looking worm thingies hanging upside down really weren't of much interest. I would have agreed, except that I kept thinking about how fascinating it was that a butterfly would really emerge from that dried-up looking thingy.
I kept checking. I hadn't been able to actually see them form the chrysalis, but I was determined to witness another part of the circle of life. (I was tempted to set up our video camera and just let it run, hoping to capture it.) I could see it now. The chrysalis would start to move... the butterfly's little body would wiggle itself out, and suddenly, beautiful wings would spread and it would start to flutter around the butterfly house. (Can't you just picture it?)
One day, during one of my frequent peeks in the butterfly house, I saw it. One was moving. (It was actually one of the chrysalises that had fallen onto the napkin we had placed at the bottom of the butterfly house. We would've been concerned about that except that the directions that came with the butterfly house said that might happen. Whew.)
Anyway, I made a mad dash for the video camera. And.... ACTION!
And we watched. The camera kept rolling. The kids and I kept chit-chatting, waiting for that moment when the butterfly would finally be free of the chrysalis... when it would spread its wings and begin to flutter around the butterfly garden.
But it didn't happen. Eventually, the butterfly stopped wiggling around. Having never witnessed this, I didn't know how long it took a butterfly to emerge. Does it take awhile for it to come out? Was it just taking a little break? Or was it.... (gasp) struggling? Was this not how it normally happens?
The kids eventually climbed their way up the step stool and into the fridge to get a snack for themselves... it was obvious that their mom was completely wrapped up in witnessing the circle of life, and would not be available for quite some time to fetch them some string cheese. They tossed their wrappers in the garbage and ran off to play.
I video taped for awhile longer, but, like the butterfly, got tired and stopped. I watched for a bit longer myself, and decided that I would just give it some time. Maybe it was just a process.
It turns out that we did, in fact, witness the circle of life. The entire circle of life. The little butterfly, who was supposed to spread its wings and fly around right in front of our eyes, instead chose to cross over to the other world where all butterflies eventually go.
The kids didn't even notice. By the time they were interested in checking in on the butterflies, the rest of them had emerged, and there was no recollection that there were 5 chrysalises to begin with and only 4 butterflies to feed. (When we'd given the butterfly ample time to emerge, Jeremy called the "time of death" and removed it from the garden.)
I was still very amazed at the whole process, but the unsuccessful attempt by our little butterfly to emerge left me wondering if what I got on tape was what typically happens, or if it had encountered some problems. (I guess I'll just have to wait until next spring when we do this again!)
We put some orange slices in the garden for the butterflies, and kept them for a few more days. I enjoyed watching them from time to time, though it had become very uninteresting to the kids.
It was time to let them go.
And we waited some more.
Rylee finally gave up and went off to play.
Carter was a bit more determined to be a part of the "release" and tried to coax them out.
The four of them finally fluttered their way out... one landed in a lilac bush nearby and stayed long enough for me to get a few pictures of it.
The others fluttered away so quickly we lost sight of them after a few seconds.
And that was that.
Carter took off to play with Rylee, leaving me to think about the whole experience.
It really was quite amazing.
We had seen it all.
Except for the "in the light of the moon, a little egg lay on a leaf"* part, we'd been there for every stage.
(* The Very Hungry Caterpillar, by Eric Carle.)
We really did witness the circle of life.