If there is a patch of willows near your home, you have a fascinating topic for nature study in spring. We headed down to the pond in mid-spring to look for frog eggs. We didn’t find any, but we found plenty of things to observe in the willows that grow in the wet areas next to the pond.
The first thing we noticed were the willow pinecone galls. These galls, like the name suggests, are shaped like pinecones and are often found on willows. They are an easy way to identify willows in winter. We collected some of the galls to take home so we could see what was inside.
We also decided to look for viceroy caterpillars. Viceroy caterpillars overwinter in hibernacula (curled up leaves) on willow trees. They attach the leaves with silk so that they don’t fall off when the willow loses the rest of its leaves. Then they emerge in spring at the same time as the willows leaf out. Since our willows are leafing out, I thought this would be a good time to find one.
We didn’t find any caterpillars, but we did come across a hibernaculum. It looked undisturbed, so we broke off the branch and brought it home. We put it in a jar with a bit of water and are going to wait to see what comes out. Viceroy caterpillars, and the chrysalises they make, are not nearly as nice-looking as that of a monarch, but they are still fascinating to study. The eggs are beautiful, though, and would be a neat treasure to find.
I don’t know if anything will come out, but if it does, it will be interesting to see what kind of caterpillar is hiding inside. We’ve raised monarchs and swallowtails and loved the experience, so it would be fascinating to raise another kind of butterfly.
We also cut open the pinecone and goldenrod galls. There was a dead insect inside one of them. Some of them had what looked like tiny larvae. Aren’t the willow pinecone galls beautiful?
If we looked later in the year, I think we’d find more developed larvae like the image below.
As you can see, willows make a fascinating nature study in spring. Even though we didn’t find tadpoles, we found a lot to explore and be curious about.
If you’re looking for other spring nature study ideas see this post: 10+ Spring Nature Study Ideas