Yesterday morning, when I checked on my zale caterpillar, I couldn't find it anywhere in the container. After taking out all the plants, and searching along every leaf and stem, I found it inside the lid, hiding behind the screening. It ended up staying there all day. Then, last night it came back to the leaves, and I saw it eating.
It was clinging to a little branch this morning, resting, but when I came home from the day's activities, I was bummed to see that the caterpillar had been parasitized. Those white things are the cocoons of tiny parasitic wasps that had been developing and feeding inside the body of the caterpillar, and today, they have emerged to pupate.
I picked up the little bundle of twigs and leaves that the caterpillar was on, and carried it out into the sunny yard to take the pictures. I could see that the caterpillar was still alive, still moving.
I soon realized that the wasp cocoons were not attached to the caterpillar. Some of these wasp species remain attached to the host, but this particular species apparently emerges fully, right through the skin of the caterpillar, and attaches to adjacent surfaces. After a few moments, as I was taking pictures and turning the twig bundle this way and that, the caterpillar began to crawl away from the cocoons.
I counted about 40 of them.
So here's the caterpillar, post parasite, still alive, for now. It was actually quite squirmy for a few minutes, until it settled down again. It seems to be resting. I have no idea if it will survive. I always thought the emergence of the parasites meant the death of the caterpillar. But you also have to figure that the wasp larvae steer clear of any vital organs, or their host would die before they have a chance to mature. Maybe there are enough of the caterpillar's innards left for it to survive. We'll have to wait and see....