Thursday, May 27, 2010

Emerging butterflies!

i mentioned a couple weeks ago, in this post that we had received a Butterfly Garden from Insectlore with painted lady caterpillars and were observing them and their transformation into butterflies. We also had a Great Spangled Fritillary Chrsyalis that we were raising and anticipating it's emergence.

The kids were mesmerized by the catalog of cool 'bug stuff' that came with the kit. They eventually noticed the caterpillars too. :)

The painted lady caterpillars were really tiny, and arrived in this small clear cup on May 11th. The stuff in the bottom of the cup is their food, and it provides them with everything they need. They are completely maintenance free, all we had to do was watch.

Honestly, the little cup seemed a bit too small for the five caterpillars. It quickly got overwhelmed with the silk/webbing they spun and tons of frass (caterpillar poop). So it really didn't make for the best observation or photo experience.

We usually raise monarchs, and i keep them in a large aquarium, where we can create a natural habitat with milkweed (their host food) and flowers to make it pretty. We also clean up the frass, and add new plants daily. It is much easier to observe them, it they have a nice clean environment much closer to how they would live in nature.

Here they are on the 14th, they have tripled in size. You can the frass all over the sides and webbing.

By May 16th, 5 days after we had received them they had all formed their chrysalises. In this photo, you can see the caterpillar in the center is in the process of shedding his skin for the last time. Caterpillars shed their skin several times before they form their chrysalis. Many folks believe that butterfly caterpillars form the chrysalis around themselves like a cocoon. They actually shed their skin a final time, and the chrysalis is underneath it. It starts off soft, and eventually hardens into the chrysalis form.

According to the directions that came with the butterfly garden, we were supposed to remove the paper (under the lid) and pin it to the side of the butterfly garden. Our paper was pretty torn and not very stable and so i decide to move all our chrysalises onto a piece of yarn. We sometime do this with the monarchs if they fall off where ever they were attached to. It is a pretty simple process. i cut around the paper where they are attached and used a dot of hot glue (administered with a pin) to glue them to a piece of yarn. i then ran each end of the yarn through the holes in the butterfly garden, and knotted it in place. It made it much easier to observe them.

i also removed out Great Spangled Fritillary Chrysalis from the pickle jar. Remember him? i was able to just glue the leaves he was attached to onto the yarn with the others.
Then we waited.

Right before a butterfly emerges, the chrysalis will turn very dark, then translucent and the designs of the butterflies wings can be seen. This is a painted lady, can you see it? This is 10 days after the caterpillars had formed their chrysalises.

This is also the first day we had left the house in about 10 days, and came home to find our butterfly garden laying on it's side on the ground...with my cat standing over it. Three of our butterflies had emerged, and the other three chrysalis had been knocked off the yarn and were laying on the floor of the butterfly garden. My cat had apparently been waiting for us to leave for his chance to attack them.

i was able to re-attach the three chrysalises that had fallen. Our fritillary chrysalis, was the only one that appeared damaged. It's side had split and it wasn't moving. :( The other two were very wiggly when i tried to re-attach them. i was really worried that our fritillary had become of victim of the cat, when all of a split even more and the butterfly emerged!!

The Fritillary is at the top, and the painted lady at the bottom. You can really see the size difference of the two.

We are keeping the painted ladies for a few days to observe them, before releasing them. i am hoping they lay eggs inside the enclosure, sow e can start the process over again. Hollyhocks is one of their host foods, and we have plenty of them growing here. The butterflies sip nectar from fresh flowers, and i sprinkled it all with a bit of sugar water.

Our other two chrysalis have become transparent, and i'm expecting them to emerge sometime today and then we will release them all tomorrow morning.

The butterfly kit was fun, although it didn't work the best for taking pictures or observation. i personally find a 10 galleon aquarium to be much more ideal. If you don't have access to caterpillars and their host foods this is still a really good way to get to experience the miracle of metamorphosis.

If you'd like to see my past blog showing our monarchs transform you can see them forming the Chrysalis here and emerging here.

We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty. ~Maya Angelou


  1. Fantastic! I totally want to do this with my kids now!

  2. We do this often, and it is one of my kids favorite things EVER! Each time a new butterfly hatches from it's chrysalis, my kids scream and dance as if they've just won the lottery! It's so amazing!

  3. Oh, they are so pretty. I can't wait for our butterflies to emerge.

  4. What a fantastic post - really helpful and factual.
    Now my girls are desperate to get caterpillars too!

  5. What an amazing thing to do - my boy is so impressed and wants to do it TODAY! To be honest so do I but I have to resist the urge and get on with the day. Beautiful post!

  6. Great report! I can't wait to show my son in the morning. They are doing it at school and he talks about it all the time. Now he can see the different stages before they happen.
    thanks so much

  7. My daughter would love the frog aquarium.She thought the butterfly habitat was pretty awesome to.

  8. I did this with my daughter and it was a fun experience I will for sure do it again