July 10, 2017

Smarty Summer Butterfly Project

If you’re looking for an easy, fun (and no mess) summer project to inspire wonderment in your children, then you definitely should check out the butterfly project we just completed. And you might be surprised by the childlike excitement that you too will experience.

We ordered painted lady butterfly caterpillars from Carolina.com and within a week, six little guys arrived in a small plastic covered cup containing all the food they would need to make their transformation. I found it amusing that the website Carolina.com takes one to a website dedicated to insects and educational items and not the Panthers, Tar Heels, or Gamecocks. Who knew!

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The caterpillars were not very active upon arrival and were less than one inch in size. Within a day or two, they started feeding while leaving small web trails. They were like toddlers practicing walking. And if you think your kids grow quickly, watching caterpillars grow is like watching the world through a time lapse lense.

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I photographed the hungry caterpillars each morning to document the dramatic growth that was occurring each day. Since we didn’t want to miss a day, we even took them to Wilmington with us. One note of importance is to never open their habitat, since life-threatening bacteria could be introduced.

After about two weeks, the caterpillars all climbed their way to the cloth on the underside of the lid and hung upside down. Within 24 hours, they were all afixed to the top and began their formation into chrysalises. It is amazing how one moment they look like a squishy caterpillar and in the next, they curl up and harden. It is truly amazing.

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Two to three days after the last chrysalis forms, they are transferred to their butterfly netting cage by pinning the piece of fabric to the side of the cage. We did have one chrysalis fall down into the food matter, so we moved him to the floor of the butterfly cage. Moisture can quickly kill the life inside.

But here’s the part that will blow your minds. We literally found ourselves lost in wonderment, in the miracle of their metamorphosis. Within their chrysalises, their bodies start to liquefy. The caterpillar digests itself, leaving only the essential components like wing tissue, the brain, and other cellular tissue that turns into body parts like eyes, legs, and all the structures that an adult butterfly has. These parts get rearranged and start to form in preparation for a butterfly. It is amazing that a caterpillar retains memory through all the stages.

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Truly, it’s a miraculous process and one that you can observe within three weeks. The butterflies emerge from their chrysalises after five to seven days. We were fortunate to see the rebirth of four out of the six butterflies. The emergence from their chrysalises is super quick, so you have to check often. I would receommend setting up a time lapse camera to capture their emergence. You will recognize when they are about to emerge: their wing color/pattern starts to become apparent through their chrysalis.

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Enjoy watching them fly and feed! And it you’re lucky, you might get a mating pair, giving you the opportunity to begin the process all over again! After two of ours mated, we released them all into our yard. We decided to let Mother Nature take over.

To order your own butterfly kit, visit Carolina.com.

To learn more about the transformation, check out https://askentomologists.com/2015/01/14/what-happens-inside-a-cocoon/

Who knows, praying mantas eggs might be next!

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