Did you know that a group of butterflies is called a rabble? You do now! I had to look this up myself, so I’d know what to call this most recent batch of butterflies we raised and released, using our Insect Lore Live Butterfly Pavilion.
We have done this several times now, but it never seems to lose its excitement for me or the kids. We love to watch as the tiny larvae rapidly grow into huge fuzzy caterpillars and then move into their cocoon stage and eventually emerge as butterflies. This time we took extra care in documenting the process, which gave the whole project a scientific feel. I like activities like this because they are fun and exciting, but also provide an educational experience that crosses many areas of science and language.
Whether this is your first time using your butterfly pavilion, or if you’re a repeat customer like us, your first step will be to order your caterpillars from Insect Lore. We’ve done this many times with the same tent by simply washing it and storing it for another use. Your caterpillars will arrive in the mail in a plastic cup with a bunch of gunk on the bottom and five tiny larvae (Day 1 below). The goo is actually their food and you will be able to observe that the caterpillars ball it up and eat it and grow very quickly. See how they’ve grown to many times their initial size in just one week in my picture below! It is easy to see how much they grow on a daily basis. You’ll also be able to see them spinning silk.
After the caterpillars become very large and fuzzy they will climb to the top of the container and hang upside down. Sometimes it will still take a few days until they become a chrysalis, but when the time comes, it happens quickly. In fact, I have never seen this in progress. It seems that one minute, they are a curled up caterpillar, and the next, they are in chrysalis form. I work from home and check on them frequently, trying to catch this in motion, and I always seem to blink my eyes and discover that the change has occurred. In the picture above, you can see the caterpillars in progress on day 18. 4 are in their cocoons and 1 is about to change. The next day they were all in the chrysalis stage and ready to be hung in the tent. This part is always a bit scary for me, but I’ve gotten better at keeping a steady hand and having some confidence. You just have to pry off the plastic lid to expose the paper disc the cocoons are attached to, then carefully lift the paper off the cup, and pin the disc to the netting of the pavilion. If a cocoon falls you can rest it on a paper towel at the bottom of the tent and it might still hatch. It has been about 50/50 in my experience. This time, we were successful in making the transfer without any cocoons falling down. After a big sigh of relief, we tried our best to be patient for their emergence as painted lady butterflies!
Two weeks later, we had 2 butterflies hatch in the same day! We had two the following day as well, and the last straggler took another day to make his appearance as a stunning butterfly. We give the butterflies fresh flowers, orange slices, and paper towels soaked in sugar water. I am sure this is overdoing it, but I am always careful to make sure they have plenty to eat and drink. They do seem to thrive and flutter about happily. I usually like to keep ours for about 10 days and then release them on a beautiful morning, so they’ll have plenty of time to explore before nightfall. Our current rabble had 2 butterflies that flew off and were never seen again, and three that really hung around our house for a few days. One of them even climbed onto girlie’s finger! Here is a video of our release:
You can see the little scientist come out in her narrative as she sets them free. Little Dude really got into it this year too and I know he will continue to appreciate this more and more as he grows to understand the amazing transformation he gets to witness. Girlie informed me that ladybugs have a similar life cycle as butterflies. They start as egg, and then are pupa, cocoons, and finish as ladybugs. I think we may order an Insect Lore Ladybug Land next year, in addition to the butterflies.
We made a butterfly life cycle bento in the spring when she learned about that topic in school and we had our own butterflies. If you click on the picture below, you can read that original post.
Have you raised any other insects? I’d love to hear your experience and know what else is fun!