Meet Marvin, Our Soon-to-Be Monarch Butterfly

Monarch Caterpillar Eating MilkweedI was padding towards the stairs following the scent of coffee brewing when I heard it. A discrete scratching sound, ever so slight but consistent, determined even. A bug struggling against the window screen? I paused at the bathroom door, then tiptoed as hastily as possible over to the large vase on the bright ledge by the window. It was Marvin.

Countless readings of The Very Hungry Caterpillar don’t begin to give you an idea of how much a real-life caterpillar consumes. And here was our little monarch eating through his second milkweed leaf of the morning so loudly I could actually hear his steady, forceful munching. The sound was at once adorable and awesome in its single-minded pursuit of what was needed to move on to the chrysalid stage of his life.

It’s been nine days since we rescued a tiny slug-like creature from the underside of a milkweed leaf in the front garden, an adventure in conservation intended to be our first science project of the year. A steady diet of milkweed–the only food monarch butterflies in the larval (caterpillar) stage eat–and Marvin quickly outgrew the first home we provided him with. From a recycled deli-salad container, he moved into a tall, wide-mouthed vase with long, interesting twigs to crawl on and ample fresh milkweed leaves. Much more spacious, much more photogenic.

Barely discernible as having any stripes at all as a centimeter-long baby, he soon took on the monarch’s lively pattern of yellow, black, and white you see here. He sleeps (or stops moving around, at least) come late afternoon, and is up at first light.

Gotta Go! Gotta Go!In addition to several relevant science books, I checked out Gotta Go! Gotta Go! at the local library soon after taking in our caterpillar. “I don’t know much, but I know what I know. I gotta go! I gotta go! I gotta go to Mexico!” chants the charming little protagonist. Published in 2000 and reprinted in paperback in 2004, the book was highly recommended by the elementary-school teacher who lives up the street.

Sam Swope’s simple story of a sweet “creepy-crawly bug,” illustrated by Sue Riddle, was too simplistic to earn a rave review from School Library Journal –but seems to be a hit with kids aged four to seven nonetheless. After studying the concepts of chrysalid stage, metamorphosis, life cycle, and migration, I know one first-grader who enjoys wrapping up science class by re-reading the fictional account of what’s happening to his temporary pet.

As for Marvin himself, I understand that when he’s ready for his chrysalis, he’ll head to the top of his vase and hang in a “j” shape. At his current rate of milkweed consumption, I expect that will happen any day now.

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