Caterpillars to butterflies

I spotted an advert last year for a company (Insect Lore) that sells caterpillars for you to grow and watch them metamorphose into butterflies.  I bought this kit (affiliate link) as I thought the boys would find it interesting. They are painted lady butterflies (Vanessa Cardui), which is a species that is native here and in a lot of the rest of the world (except apparently South America and Antarctica).

Tiny caterpillars

I ordered the caterpillars using the voucher in the kit (you have to pay postage) to come in mid-March.  I think I'd pick a date slightly later in the year if we do it again as it's been pretty cold here and all the stages of their growth and transformation have taken a bit longer than the company suggested, plus there were frosts overnight the week before we released them.

Bigger caterpillars

The caterpillars arrive in a ventilated pot with food at the bottom.  They are tiny to start with (less than 1cm long) and we could almost see them growing in front of our eyes as they munched their food!  The boys enjoyed watching them, and we gave them names (Colin was the biggest, and that was prior to the current M&S/Aldi legal debacle, sadly we didn't have a Cuthbert!).  Colin seemed to be the most adventurous and was often found wandering around the top of the cup.  We had one that was about half as big as the others when he arrived (Curt) and I think he must have been a couple of days younger as he went through all the stages about 2 days behind.

Chrysalises about to form

They moulted their skins 4 times as they grew, and we watched them poo (the boys obviously loved this!) and counted their legs (16, six of which are 'true legs' with joints).  My 2 year old enjoyed watching them and telling the rest of us what they were all doing!

Colin's chrysalis

As they got bigger, they spent more time around the top of the tub and eventually (about 5 days after the Insect Lore timeline) they started to hang from the top and turn into a chrysalis.  Curt spent another couple of days as a caterpillar and knocked one of the chrysalises off into the food.  Another caterpillar looked like it was turning into a chrysalis, but something clearly went wrong and it just ended up as a dried out hanging caterpillar - the boys took the demise of this one in their stride (thankfully not Colin or Curt which they were particularly fond of!).

Butterfly shortly after emerging

I transferred the chrysalises to the net very carefully.  I suggest this is a job best not done with the help of a 2 year old.  The one that had fallen into the food, we carefully scooped up with a spoon and moved it onto some kitchen roll inside the net as per Insect Lore's instructions.  They then spent more than 2 weeks in the net before the first one emerged.

Admiring his butterfly

We heard a rustling noise one morning and saw a butterfly trying to get out of its chrysalis on the bottom of the net.  Having subsequently seen the hanging ones emerge with ease, this one had a real struggle and the end result was it had a wing that never formed perfectly.  The next day, two more joined it, including Colin.  I was informed by the 2 year old that the butterfly couldn't be called Colin, so it became Isla...!  We watched as their wings straightened out and their proboscis (tongue) went from being in two pieces to being fused so the butterflies can drink nectar.  All three showed little interest in the sliced orange or sugar syrup we put in to feed them, I think it was a bit too cold in the room for them to be very active.

Holding Isla the butterfly

Three days after the first one emerged, Curt was still a chrysalis but we decided to release the first three.  We took the net into the garden on a sunny early afternoon and they started flying around more.  When we opened the net, they were all happy to rest on fingers and backs of hands, and whilst my 4 year old was only briefly interested, his little brother was fascinated and spent a long time watching them and holding them with close supervision.  The one with the damaged wing clearly couldn't fly very well, but by late afternoon, one had flown away and we popped the other two on our tree which was covered in blossom.  We put the net with the last chrysalis back indoors.

With wings closed

The next morning, the little one woke up and said he wanted another butterfly on the back of his hand.  His wish was granted, as Curt emerged as a butterfly!  Curt stayed with us for two days before being released, and he spent a minute on the back of his hand before flying away, first onto one of our trees and then further afield! 

Curt, before flying away!

We talked about the butterfly life cycle, and read Eric Carle's "the very hungry caterpillar" numerous times whilst the butterflies were with us.  Both boys can now tell you lots about the life cycle, caterpillars and butterflies.  My 4 year old is hoping some eggs are laid in our garden so we can have some more butterflies.  He's also keen to plant some flowers to make our garden more appealing for them.  I hope some do, but I suspect they'll find better places so I anticipate that at some point I may be asked if we can have some more!  The net can be re-used, so we'd just need to buy some more caterpillars.