Wednesday, August 10, 2011


That's what Scooch calls butterflies.  A year or so ago, we gave a gift to our niece of one of those butterfly kits.  It comes with everything you need but the caterpillars, which you have to order when you are ready to start.  While our niece used her habitat for housing a host of other critters and collections, but not butterflies, I have since thought about getting our own caterpillars to grow and release.  I wanted to wait until Scooch was old enough to have a bit of an idea of what was going on.  Lately, there's been an ad running on tv here for the kits, and every time Scooch would say something about it, so I decided it was time.

Our box arrived on a Saturday morning, and it was lucky we were still home (we're usually out enjoying getting out of the house).  I tore into the box like a kid on Christmas morning.  It came with two containers of 5 caterpillars each.  The bottom was covered in their 'nutrient', and that is what they would eat until they pupated.  Also in the kit were instructions, a butterfly life cycle poster, a glossy card with stickers (Scooch's favorite part), and the hatching habitat. 

Unfortunately, we had to keep the caterpillars in as constant a temperature as we could find in the house.  I had hoped to be able to keep them on the sill in the kitchen where we could watch them better, but that was a definite no-no.  So I kept them in my studio, where not much action took place recently (unfortunately), and the temp can stay pretty constant.

Scooch and I checked on them each morning, watching them grow and crawl around.  They spun webs that they crawled on and slept in.  The only bad thing about living in a little container, is that all their poo had to just hang out with them.  Sorry, TMI probably.

About two weeks after their arrival, one [much bigger] caterpillar crawled up to the top, hung around up there for a bit making preparations, and then stuck his (her?) little feet to the top and hung upside down.  About 24 hours later, he (she?) started shaking and twisting around.  The caterpillar skin split around the head area, and as the chrysalis underneath wiggled away, the skin slipped up to the top.  When it was finished, the skin had shrunk all up.  It looked like a tiny little version of a caterpillar, hanging from the top near the feet.  You can almost see it in the photo below.  The chrysalis in the center of the photo has a dark thing hanging up at the top in front of it.  That's the discarded skin.

One by one, the other 9 all pupated and we ended up with 10 newly formed chrysalids.  I was so happy to see them all make it to this stage.  Unfortunately, one of them fell and had to lie in all the poo until they had all finished pupating.  I moved them into the hatching habitat, which was a little unnerving.  They all started wiggling and shaking to ward off prey.  I thought they were all going to fall off before I could get them attached to the habitat.

Then, about a week and a half later, two butterflies!!  It's a little yucky after they hatch.  There's this bloody looking stuff that drips all over as they stretch out and enjoy being able to spread their wings for the first time.  Here is one that just hatched.  They pump blood into their wings under pressure to get them to flatten out and harden.  It happens pretty quickly too, within a few minutes.  Sorry these photos are hazy.  It's hard to take clear photos through the habitat since it's a white mesh.  I tried taken photos through the clear plastic top, but since it was always a bit wrinkled, all the photos looked like they were warped.

We kept the butterflies for two days before letting them go.  I fed them oranges and sugar water sprinkled on flowers.  Once we let them go, they all hung around on the ground for a while.  Then, one by one, they started to fly away.  Three stayed in the grass after we went inside for dinner, but we got to watch 4 fly up into the wind and out of our garden (we had already said goodbye to 3 early birds previously).  Hopefully they were able to stay close by since many of our neighbors have lovely flower gardens.  However, with all the wind and rain we've had lately, I shudder to think what's become of them.  Normally, they should live 3-5 weeks after hatching.  Check out the one down there that tried to hitchhike on my leg.

All in all, this was a fun little project.  If I were ever to do this again, I would have to have a big tank for the caterpillars, and a much bigger area for the butterflies.  I felt bad that they were so confined during their short little lives, and would want to make things more natural for them next time; including real food instead of manufactured 'nutrient'.  But that could potentially turn into a really big, really expensive project.  So unless I decide to become a butterfly whisperer or something, I'll probably just leave it all to nature and the great butterfly conservatories that have the proper facilities.

Oh, in case you're interested, they are Painted Lady Butterflies, and we got them here.

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