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By: Gillian, Volunteer Manager, Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium, Audubon Aquarium of the Americas
Spinx moth metamorphosis

At the Insectarium we have some very small animals. Some are so small that they are mostly looked over. But one tiny animal that many of us are familiar with are caterpillars.

One of the caterpillars that you can see here, and be able to touch at Metamorphosis Lab, is the Tobacco Hornworm. By the time they are on display they are close to pupating so they can be pretty big, but they start off their life rather tiny. 

Recently, the entomology staff has decided that instead of buying our hornworms from a supplier we should breed our own. So we put a few adult moths in a large enclosure with a tomato plant and let nature run its course. I was lucky enough to try my hand as “egg counter”! It really is a fun task. Think of an Easter egg hunt but with hundreds of eggs! I begin by combing over each individual leaf and steam. After I have thoroughly looked at the plant I have to make sure I grab the ones that are on the screen of the enclosure. 

The eggs are about the size of a pinhead and lime green in color. My first day of counting I found 131 eggs and just last Saturday I harvested 197 eggs! We’ve moved all of these eggs to a separate enclosure with an abundant supply of food so when they hatch they won’t have to travel so far for their first meal. We had a few emerge over the weekend and they are about the size of a grain of rice. That’s tiny! 

They will have to grow up a little before we put them on display to be touched, but in the mean time we will have their larger cousins ready to help us explain complete metamorphosis to our guests in Met Lab.

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