Share it! Science : August 2023

Raising Butterflies at Home and School: Metamorphosis Before Your Very Eyes!

Each spring for the past 4 years we have seen a little bit of magic happen on our kitchen counter. Tiny caterpillars arrive in the mail and over the next week or so grow so quickly you can almost see it happening. One day they find a cozy place to hang and you blink and they are no longer caterpillars, but tiny chrysalides. The rest of the action takes place inside, and we wish we had x-ray vision to let us see. One day, out come butterflies! 

Raising butterflies from an Insect Lore cup of caterpillars is a very easy and fairly fool-proof way to share this magical life cycle with kids at home or school. Read on to find out how simple the process is and my recommendation for purchasing what you need. 

Please note, this blog post was not written in partnership with Insect Lore. My opinions about their products come from my experience with them and I was not compensated to review their products. This post contains affiliate and referral links, meaning I receive a small commission or points from purchases made through these links at no additional cost to you. Please see disclosures for more information.

Raising Butterflies at Home or School

Butterfly Kits

Raising caterpillars into butterflies is a very easy and foolproof process with Insect Lore's Butterfly Garden kit. We purchased our first kit from Amazon to save a few dollars, but have continued to buy our Painted Lady caterpillars each year directly from Insect Lore. If you want to purchase your butterfly habitat with live caterpillars rather than a voucher to get the caterpillars at a later date, you should buy directly from Insect Lore. I recommend signing up for their newsletter as well and you will find many opportunities for sales like BOGO cup of caterpillars, kits and bonus gifts. (Plus their newsletter is fascinating, it's one of the few company e-mails I receive that I actually read all the way through!)
Our caterpillars always come quickly and in good health. The only issue I've had is that once there were only 4 caterpillars in our cup instead of 5. Customer service was very responsive and easy to work with. Our problem was resolved very quickly. I have always been so happy with this company. 
Be sure that when you order your caterpillars it is the right time of year and temperature in your region to release them safely and for their health. Your caterpillars will arrive promptly after ordering them and you don't want it to be too cold or too hot for them to be traveling in the mail. You might also want to investigate whether or not you have a natural food source available for Painted Lady Butterflies. Flowers in the mallow and thistle families are good choices. You can learn more about the habitat requirements of Painted Lady Butterflies here

Butterfly metamorphosis

Observing Butterfly Metamorphosis

The caterpillars come in a cup that holds all of the food they will need to grow over the next 2-4 weeks. You can leave them enclosed in the cup until they have each made a chrysalis. My one caveat with this is that it doesn't really show children how a caterpillar feeds in the wild. Munching away at some brown gel in the bottom of a cup isn't like munching at a plant. However, since we have young kids this is a really easy way to raise the caterpillars, and it proves very successful. We've only lost 2 butterflies from the 30 or so we have raised. The caterpillars are fascinating to watch and they grow SO, SO QUICKLY. It is mind boggling. It really is kind of like The Very Hungry Caterpillar. 
Raising the caterpillars in a cup is a great teachable moment to investigate native plants and host plants for insects. You can work on answering the questions: How is this different than the Painted Lady Butterfly's life cycle in nature? What is a host plant? What part of the plant does a caterpillar depend on? What part of the plant does an adult butterfly depend on? 
Growing painted lady caterpillars
One day the bigger caterpillars begin to hang from the top of the cup in a "j" shape, and that is when you know that they are getting ready to pupate. Soon after there are chrysalides hanging from the lid of the cup where the caterpillars once were. 
Painted lady butterfly life cycle

Then it is time to move the critters to their butterfly habitat while they make their incredible transformation. We are "Waiting for Wings"!

The next 10 days or so will require a bit of patience, so this is an excellent time to learn more about butterfly life cycles. How cool is this 3-D Monarch life cycle printable download? You can try building your own DIY butterfly feeder in the meantime to attract even more butterflies to your yard or school yard. 

Painted Lady Butterfly Chrysalis


Painted Lady Butterflies 

One day, those butterflies will emerge from their chrysalides. We have only actually witnessed it a few times, it happens very quickly. We feed our adult butterflies sugar water from a sponge, orange slices, and watermelon. The butterflies love watermelon! It is so cool to see that curly proboscis unfurl and slurp up the sugary liquid. This is a great time to make some observations that would be difficult to observe in the wild. 
Adult Painted Lady Butterfly
After a few days we release our Painted Ladies. It's always a bit of a bittersweet moment as we really enjoy having them, but it is also exciting to see them fly away and be free! 

Releasing an adult painted lady butterfly at home

Take an Insect Class! 

If your kids are wild about insects like mine, maybe they would enjoy my "Invent an Insect!" online class on Outschool. Learn the parts of an insect through games, songs and more in a lesson that I've had success teaching for almost 2 decades! Check out the schedule here. If you are new to Outschool, use my referral coupon code: MSSARAH2020 to receive $20 credit towards your first Outschool classes. You can find other coupon codes here.

Butterfly Metamorphosis Before Your Very Eyes