Ever since fellow bug-blogger "Vanessa" posted about seeing mourning cloak caterpillars in her yard almost a month ago, I have been watching my Chinese Elm tree hopefully, and checking in the ivy on the ground beneath it for caterpillar poop. Likewise with the row of Chinese Elms in the parking lot at the arboretum. Weeks passed, and I saw nothing, until today. But today I found a dead caterpillar in my lawn.
As yucky as it looked, it could mean only one thing. Somewhere in the overhanging branches of the tree above me, there were more.
I grabbed the binoculars and began looking. It didn't take long. The only problem was that they were waaay up there where I could never reach them. I asked Brice, to help me. That boy isn't good for much when it comes to helping around the house, but he was ready and willing to climb a tree for me. But even though he can climb like a monkey, he would have had to be the size of a squirrel monkey to reach the caterpillars, clumped together at the very end of the long, very skinny branches. But he came up with another plan, and he gathered up a few rubber dog toys and started throwing them up at the branch. (Not at the caterpillars, but just below them on the same branch.) It only took a few tries before he hit it, and the impact sent about a dozen caterpillars raining down into the grass.
I gathered them up quickly and stuck them in a jar for a few moments, until I could pull my butterfly pavilion out of the garage and set it up with some leafy branches from the tree.
Once inside the pavilion, which is a large screened enclosure, the caterpillars seemed to have lost their cohesiveness as a group, and they just wandered randomly inside it. A few did settle down and start eating together, but it didn't last, and now most of them are arranged around the top of the enclosure.
It's likely that they were already close to leaving the tree anyway to pupate. They're already pretty big. In fact, I found a couple on the wall of my patio.