Thursday, May 24, 2012

From Caterpillar to Moth: Ctenucha virginica


I call him "Stan". 

Yes, yes, I have heard the arguments against anthropomorphizing, especially with children, but, really, "Ctenucha" is such a mouthful. 

So, Stan he is. Until he hatches anyway, and then he might just be "Stanette". 

Maya found him yesterday clinging to the side of our plastic pool.  It is the larvae ("caterpillar" or, as Maya says, "killerpatter") form of the Ctenucha virginica moth. We found our bug jar and the girls dug out their magnifying glasses and spent some good quality time investigating our new friend.

They wanted to bring it into school to share so we added some grass (the food of choice) to our bug jar.  (I love that they go to a school that encourages them to bring in their nature discoveries!) 

We planned to exchange our smaller bug jar with a larger, wide mouth jar with twigs in it upon which the larvae could make a cocoon, but we woke up this morning to this:

The little bugger beat us to it!  From the outside of the jar you can clearly see the shape of the larvae through the silk and hairs.

Stan should take about a month to develop into a moth.  We'll post an update when he/she hatches!

Do Try This At Home
This is a great activity to do with kids and you should be able to find copious numbers of moth and butterfly larvae during the warmer months.  Here are a few tips, if you want to try it.
  • Though not as common as the internet rumors make them out to be, there are larvae that are poisonous or, more likely, irritating, so please be careful.  Consider using garden gloves (my girls love theirs - I think it makes them feel very grown up) when handling any finds.
  • The internet is a great place for identifying your find.  We started with a basic Google search, but also used the identification tool at  There are also some great blogs out there of amateur entomologists, like The Backyard Arthropod Project.  I could just link to it, but the domain name is too good to not let you see it: .  (It also has some amazing, amazing pics, including much better ones than ours of the Ctenucha.)
  • Once you've identified your species, create a habitat for them that include an adequately sized jar (a mason jar or similar wide mouthed jar with netting or nylon on top works well) with pencil-sized twigs in it as well as their food of choice.  Keep the jar clean and change the food daily.  You can find more information on raising butterflies and moths at Butterfly School.  
  • Can't find any caterpillars in your neck of the woods or rather try something of a known?  When I was working with high school students, we ordered hornworm larvae from Carolina Biological Supply.  You also should check out the post at Creekside Learning on The Very Hungry Caterpillars for some great detailed information of their experiment including other sources of larvae and some themed books!
  • Be patient!  The length of time it takes a butterfly to emerge from a chrysalis or a moth to emerge from a cocoon varies from species to species.  The monarch butterfly only takes 7 to 10 days while some are meant to provide protection over the winter.  While you wait, here's a great video to watch on the life cycle of the monarch butterfly told from the butterfly's perspective.


  1. What a great post! I love the name Stan. :-) Thanks for linking to our caterpillar post.

    1. Thanks! I saw that your butterflies had emerged - so exciting! I look forward to seeing if any of the eggs hatch! =)

  2. Stan is a great short form of Ctenucha!

    One thing to watch for when raising wild-caught caterpillars: sometimes you don't get what you expect. I've had several that turned out to be infected with parasitic wasps, and I ended up with swarms of little wasps instead of a moth or butterfly.

    And thanks for the link!

    1. Thanks, Tim! Parasitic flies can emerge as well, correct? We can now clearly see the pupae which is very exciting!

  3. What a great post. I'm loving reading about everyone who is finding eggs or caterpillars in nature to raise instead of ordering through the mail. We were going to order more caterpillars later in the summer but I think we might just go on a nature hunt instead. Thanks for the tips and for linking up :)

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