Watching Your Butterfly Grow

butterfly
© 2007 Andrea Anderson

A great project to teach children to protect and respect nature and to give them a bit of perspective on their own life is to allow them to watch caterpillars turn into butterflies.We have a safe way to do this, without harming the caterpillars or butterflies.

butterfly chrysalis
Monarch Butterfly and Chrysalis
© 2007 Andrea Anderson

First, you will want to read our blog on Tips For Creating A Butterfly Garden. In addition to planting some of the butterfly host plants
directly into your garden, for this project, we suggest that you also plant a few of the smaller host plants (like Asclepias) in smaller pots which you can move and remove easy within your butterfly garden. Once your plants are fairly established and beginning to flower, you can begin the first stage of this project.

Watch closely for butterflies to become interested in these host plants. Remember, butterflies do not feed from the host plants, they lay their eggs on them and caterpillars feed from them. You may notice butterflies landing on the host plants and staying for a moment or two. They are, most likely, laying their eggs. Most butterfly eggs are too small to see with the naked eye but if you watch closely you will see that this is about the only time butterflies pay any attention to the host plants. Once you see this happen, watch for caterpillars to begin to emerge in a few days (3-5 days, usually).

caterpillar
Monarch Caterpillar
© 2007 Andrea Anderson

You will know caterpillars have emerged when you begin to see your host plants begin munched on. Leave them undisturbed until they begin to get fat (fatter than the width of an average pencil and longer than 2 inches) which usually takes about a week and a half. Once they get big enough, take a leaf and gently transfer them from the plant they are on to one of your potted host plants.

Then, take a square of fine mesh (like a window screen, so you can see through it) a few inches taller than the plant and pot combined but no wider than the top of the pot (the area of soil) and roll it to create a cone shape. Take some bread twist ties (or soft wire) and secure the shape. Cut the bottom of the wire cone (the large end NOT the small end) so that you can fit it tightly in the soil near the edges of the pot and then simply cover the plant with the caterpillar with the cone and secure it by twisting the cone slightly into the soil. Put the pot with the cone over it in a part shade area where it is easily visible by you and your child but still remains mainly undisturbed. Do not put it in a high traffic area or where sounds or vibrations may disturb it. A nice quiet place is the best place to watch your caterpillar turn into a butterfly.

chrysalis
Monarch Chrysalis About To Open
© 2007 Andrea Anderson

Soon, your caterpillar will begin to attach to either the plant or the screen and hang upside down, preparing for the big change. Within the next 24 hours, the caterpillar will be secure in the chrysalis stage for about ten days.

The chrysalis stays about the same for about a week and there is really not much to see, at this point. During this time, you will want to open up your cone in preparation for a better view and release of your butterfly. You can do this by either opening up your twist ties or cutting the screen to open it. Be sure to be very careful, to keep from disturbing the chrysalis, remember that your future butterfly is alive and growing, at this stage.

After about a week, the color of the chrysalis will turn dark. Then, in the next couple of days, you may begin to see a bit of murky color from the butterfly wings. When this happens, watch closely because you may have a butterfly within the day or even a couple of hours.

As the butterfly emerges, you will begin to see movement. The chrysalis will break open and a butterfly will emerge. However, it takes some time for the butterfly to get its blood pumping enough to fly away so you will have some time to watch the transformation which is quite incredible. This is a good time to get your camera out and take some pictures… like these…

emerging 1
emerging 2
emerging 3
emerging 4
emerging 5
All above photos © 2007 Andrea Anderson

Most importantly, have fun watching your butterflies!

Please Note: We prefer this method because it allows caterpillars and butterflies to stay in their natural surroundings with fresh food. We strongly suggest that you create your own butterfly garden for a project like this rather than using the more common method of buying a butterfly from a kit and releasing it in an unnatural environment because our method allows for the preservation of local butterflies and natural habitats which provide fresh food from a natural environment which in turn creates stronger healthier butterflies. Please, never store your caterpillars in a glass or plastic container, that is a good way to cook a butterfly (or any insect, or animal) but not the best way to raise one. Have fun with this method and always remember to enjoy the butterflies!