This time last year my world opened up with a little Monarch caterpillar. I had planted some milkweed in my garden, found one caterpillar and with guidance from a friend, I raised the caterpillar in my porch in a protected enclosure. As soon as she became a butterfly I released her. Here is a photo of the butterfly:
This year we planted more milkweed, and we ended up with more caterpillars. I got to reflecting as my husband and I spend quite a bit of time cleaning up caterpillar poop. Raising these caterpillars makes me really appreciate my dogs and also makes me think how much about dogs we take for granted.
Some reflections from raising caterpillars:
- Space is very important. Caterpillars need plenty of space, overcrowding can lead to strange behaviors (such as caterpillars eating chrysalises) and diseases!
- Dogs similarly do much better when they have a lot of space. Owners may not think of this as an issue at home, but it can be in a multiple dog home or at a dog park or crowded urban environment. Just adding space can dramatically decrease conflicts and dog’s stress levels.
- Provide plenty of resources. One caterpillar, a sprig of leaves may suffice, more than one, you need to double or even triple the amount. Caterpillars did not evolve to be on top of each other.
- In a multiple dog home, you may need double or triple the number of toys to prevent conflicts over limited resources. Or alternatively, provide more space or separate the dogs.
- Change of any kind changes behavior. Change of something as minor as weather alters caterpillar development, they take longer to turn into butterflies in cooler temperatures.
- Dogs are impacted by things like weather as well. In summer heat most dogs slow down. Owners rarely complain about leash pulling in August, it’s a cool September weather problem.
- Developmental changes alter needs significantly. Caterpillars are pretty high maintenance requiring constant clean up and fresh leaves. When they form a Chrysalis, it’s wait and watch time. Then suddenly you have butterflies and now they don’t eat leaves at all-but if you plan on keeping them at this stage (I don’t) you’d need to learn how to provide fresh flowers and nectar.
- Dogs also have different needs at different life stages. A puppy’s needs and behavior is different from an adolescent and that is still different for an adult or geriatric dog. Owners are often unaware of dog development and adolescent dog behavior fluctuations.
- Know your species specific behaviors. No one should try to raise anything – not a butterfly nor a plant without doing quite a bit of research. Caterpillars molt their skin and become still and stop eating for quite some time during this process. A person unaware of this may think their caterpillar is ill.
- Dogs also have a number of normal species specific behaviors, people new to dog and puppy ownership need to do research before getting a puppy and get professional guidance right away. I have had new puppy owners unaware of what is “normal” in terms of house soiling and miss symptoms of urinary tract infections in their puppy. I’ve also had owners sometimes worry about behaviors that were normal such as puppy mouthing.
I know these points may seem blatantly obvious and silly. But the reality is that dogs are incredibly forgiving as a species. They will tolerate not having all of their needs met. Most animals and insects are not nearly as forgiving. Taking a step back and thinking of our dogs’ environmental, developmental, resource, space and behavioral needs can help us help our canine companions to thrive in our homes.
P.S. You don’t need to raise caterpillars to help monarchs, in fact just planting milkweed is probably the most important thing you can do to help declining monarch populations!