Butterfly life cycle
We have purchased a butterfly garden from Insect Lore as part of our homeschool curriculum. We are going to study metamorphosis. We are expecting some Painted Lady caterpillars through the post any day now…
Day 1: The caterpillars have arrived! There are five of them. We have named them Bob, Kevin, Jeff, Dave and Lazarus (because we thought he was dead, but then he started wiggling). They are about one centimetre long and they are all eating their food, which is the beige gloop at the bottom of the pot. We have to leave them in the pot until they go into their chrysalis (also known as a pupa, but which is different from a cocoon as these are exclusive to moths).
We have tried to look closely at them through a magnifying glass but they are really quite tiny!
Day 4: The caterpillars are one and a half centimetres now, but sadly, Lazarus has died. We noticed that he was very small when he arrived and although he was alive at first, he hasn’t moved or grown, so it looks like he hasn’t made it.
The other four are wriggling about like worms and we can see them more easily now. We have found a nice spot indoors to keep them which is out of a draught and out of sunlight, but nice and warm.
Day 6: The caterpillars have now grown to two and a half centimetres long. Bob is wriggling about all over the place (mostly on the roof). We think he has got wiggle-itis. Because they are bigger, you can now see long thin lines of hair all over their bodies. We can see small blobs of brown all around and we think this must be their poop (eugh!).
Day 11: The caterpillars are huge now! They are at least four centimetres long and have patterns all over them. They look sort of stripy, they are black with creamy-white stripes and faint dots. They have shed their skin a few times, this is when they grow out of their exoskeletons and grow a bigger, prettier one underneath. The tub is really messy with lots of webbing, poop and old skins.
Day 14: The first caterpillar, Bob, is now hanging in his pupa and in the transforming mode, the next stage of metamorphosis. He’s hanging from the roof (the lid of the tub) and looks like the number 6 or the handle of an umbrella. The other three are all still eating all the gloop and making their way to the top.
Day 18: All the caterpillars are now in their chrysalides and are beginning the process of turning into butterflies. We have moved them into their habitat. It’s a pop-up, netted container which we can see into. We have brushed off the silk webbing (called frass) because the butterflies can get tangled in it when they emerge. We used a cotton bud and a teaspoon to move the chrysalides which had fallen off the lid.
Day 27: We've been waiting for ages but today the first butterfly has come out and is flapping about all over the place. We woke up this morning and there was a beautiful butterfly!
It has some stripes and some peacock dots on the underside of its wings to scare away predators. When it opens its wings there are vibrant bright orange and black patterns. There are some red dots of blood (meconium) in the habitat which is a normal part of the
Day 29: Today two more butterflies came out of their pupae and despite watching intently we managed to miss them both emerging. We knew they were about to emerge because the chrysalis went very dark first. Luckily, we did capture it on a time-lapse video.
Day 30: We have set the butterflies free this morning. One of the butterflies didn’t look very well (it was laying on one side) so because it was a sunny morning, we have decided this was the right time. We took the habitat outside (and put the cat away!) then one-by-one we carefully took the butterflies out and rested them gently on a flower so that they could feed from its nectar. We could feel their velvety wings and their delicate legs as we held them.
Our fourth butterfly was born shortly afterwards, but we missed it again. It happens very quickly.
Day 31: The last remaining butterfly, whose name we’ve now forgotten but we’ve decided is Jeff, is sitting on the side of the netting and staying surprisingly still. We’ll let him go tomorrow.
Day 33: We set Jeff free today. It seemed very keen to leave and flew away very quickly.
We would describe it as a unique experience which was fun and educational and perfect for home education. We were surprised at how quick the process was from tiny caterpillar to colourful butterfly. We enjoyed watching the caterpillars grow and checking on them daily. We have also enjoyed journaling the experience including setting up the habitat, the food and filming and photographing the process.
Thanks for reading x