I’ve raised live butterflies many times before, in my teaching days, and I knew it was something I definitely wanted to do when I had children of my own. This summer seemed a perfect time to introduce them for the first time; both the children have been really interested in minibeasts (so much so that Max picked up a bumble bee when it flew into the paddling pool on holiday – needless to say, it stung him…) and Amelie has been fascinated to watch butterflies flying around the wild flowers she loves so much.
I ordered our caterpillars online and they arrived soon after in the post. They come in a little pot, which also contains their food, and they stay in there until they turn into cocoons. I took this photograph the day after they came, and they had already doubled in size! We had a spell of such warm weather that they really rocketed through their life cycle.
Here they are, just a week later, busily climbing to the top of the pot on a regular basis to find the perfect spot to attach themselves for the next stage.
Once they’re happy with their spot, they use silk (which they’ve threaded all over the place in the pot) to attach themselves to the roof of the pot and hang upside down in a J shape. A little while later they will turn into a cocoon – probably later that day – and the process itself seems to take about an hour.
Once all the caterpillars have pupated and hardened off for a couple of days, it’s time to transfer them into the butterfly garden. There is a piece of paper attached to the lid of the pot which you transfer very carefully and attach to the garden with a safety pin. This bit is always interesting for me as they often start to wriggle, sometimes quite violently, and it really gives me the eebeejeebees!! The first time it happened, years ago, I nearly dropped the poor things…
This stage usually takes up to two weeks to complete but for us, with the hot weather, it was only a week. You can tell when they’re about to hatch, as the cocoons turn darker. This is one of our first hatched butterflies. Their wings are quite curved over to begin with but they straighten out in a matter of minutes. We bought some flowers from the shop and made a solution of sugar and water to sprinkle on them. (I know, why did I buy flowers?! Well, we don’t have any in our garden – brand new house, grass only for now, sadly. We’ll have some by next year!) We also gave them some slices of orange to see if they would like the juice. It’s really fascinating to watch them uncurl their long tongues and drink the nectar. After a few days of watching them it was time to let them fly free. We took them to my dad’s garden, with it’s abundance of flowers, hoping they might land and stick around for us to watch for a bit. Sadly it was a bit of a cool, windy day and they flew high over our heads and out of sight. We’ve carried on exploring the butterfly life cycle for a couple of weeks, even though they are gone. I’ve made and set up resources for Max and Amelie to play with and they’ve developed a really good understanding of it. It’s been interesting to hear the things they have been saying, for example Max told me the other day that caterpillars can’t fly, “they can only fly when they’re a butterfly,” and he said to daddy, “you’re not a butterfly yet, you’re still in your coon!” They often talk about the butterflies drinking nectar from flowers, too.
It’s been a bit of a project – probably our first long-running one – and I’ll be posting more about it at the end of this week.