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Of caterpillars and cannibalism

Of caterpillars and cannibalism
Of caterpillars and cannibalism

So, um, remember those three monarch caterpillars I told you about?

They all came from the same milkweed plant. One egg per leaf (presumably laid by the same butterfly?), all hatching within 3 days of each other. But what a difference a day makes.

This weekend the oldest and biggest caterpillar, which looks to be on its 4th or 5th instar already, was sitting on one end of a milkweed leaf. Its much smaller sibling, maybe 2nd or 3rd instar at the most, was sitting near the middle of the leaf. I went outside to get more leaves, and when I came back maybe 15 minutes later, big caterpillar was sitting where little caterpillar had been. And little caterpillar was gone.

So what happened? Read on for that plus the naming contest results after the jump:

It turns out that monarch caterpillars can be cannibals. They are very hungry, especially after the 3rd instar, so if food is scarce they will eat each other. In this case food was not scarce, but clearly the big one didn't know that.

The upshot:  I had been thinking of naming them like my previous two caterpillars after msnbc hosts, in this case Chrysalis Matthews and Melissa Harris 'Pillar. But not wanting to associate either of them with cannibalism, I have now decided to name the smaller one (per icekat's suggestion) Garnish. As in "Don't eat the..." What's the name of the cannibalistic one? My daughter wants to name it, so that remains to be announced.

Also, despite the picture above, each of my remaining two has its own shoebox home now! I'm not taking any more chances!