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Fun at the Peaks of Otter: By Pat Schuler, the Butterfly Lady

  On August 13th I had the privilege of participating in "Naturefest 2011" in which National Park Service staff and volunteers conducted a series of nature centered activities for both adults and children throughout the Peaks of Otter area.  The activities began at 9 A.M. and lasted all day. They included fun from fishing to topics as far reaching as bears, coyotes, and, of course, butterflies. I was invited to give a Powerpoint presentation on my experiences with raising native butterflies and moths and also to lead a nature walk along a trail from the Peaks Hotel to the ranger station to identify butterflies, caterpillars, host plants, etc. The group was enthusiastic and participative, and I thoroughly enjoyed the time.  Hopefully, a few of those who attended left with a greater ability to see the wonders of God's creation that exists all around us!

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     As part of the presentation I also brought some framed examples of some of the native moths I have raised, as well as some of the caterpillars (alive and crawling!) that I am currently raising.  On my birthday, Aug. 7th, the Royal Walnut Moth caterpillars that I had thought were not going to hatch began popping out of their egg shells. By the date of the Naturefest, these little rascals were already large enough to look fairly impressive, so I passed around the plastic boxes I keep them in until they are large enough to put into a larger container.  When I say that the common name for these caterpillars is "Hickory Horned Devil" you'll understand that they must look a bit startling, at the very least! These are eating voraciously and growing almost as we watch. Today, on the 27th, they are already three inches long.  This caterpillar grows to six inches, or more! I'm going to attach a picture of one taken last night to give you an idea of why the common name.  They look fearsome, but are absolutely harmless, except to the foliage of the black walnut trees they are being fed. Thought you might like to see what kind of moth they become, so I'll also attach a photo of their parents.  The larger of the two moths is the female. These moths are not cocoon spinning moths, but are earth pupaters.  When the caterpillar is ready to shed its last larval skin, revealing the pupa form in which it will spend the winter, it digs into the earth beneath the tree on which it has been feeding .  This will require a bit of preparation on my part, and is an experience I've not had previously.  Every species is different in so many ways, and fascinating to observe for a nature watcher.  Oh yes, I'll also attach a picture taken a few days before the eggs hatched.  Interestingly, the tiny caterpillar can be seen very clearly through the translucent eggshell.  I had read that the caterpillar form could be seen throughout its development, but was not able to see anything of that until suddenly it became quite visible.  The fact that I had not been able to see it earlier accounts for my doubts about the eggs hatching.

     Every observation of this cycle of life, with its complex changes in form, not to mention the even more complex instinctive behaviors at each stage of developmemt, fills me with wonder and amazement at the wisdom of the Creator. As the psalmist wrote, "O Lord, how manifold are Your works!  In wisdom You have made them all." Ps. 104:24.