Sophie was recently sent a butterfly growing kit by my friend Mel. She thought that Sophie would enjoy watching the caterpillars transform into butterflies and that releasing them would be a lovely way for her to remember Jessica too.
The butterfly kit comes with full instructions, a voucher for ordering a cup of caterpillars, a mesh habitat for the butterflies and a pipette for helping to feed them. I had originally intended to make this part of our #30DaysWild activities last month but never quite managed to get the caterpillars ordered ready for this.
It takes about three to five weeks from the caterpillars arriving to the butterflies being ready to be released. It’s important to make sure when ordering the caterpillars that you’re able to observe and care for them throughout this time.
Watching the caterpillars grow
Sophie was very excited to see the teeny tiny caterpillars when our cup arrived in the post.
Over the next few days, the caterpillars grew and grew. The change in size from one day to the next was quite amazing to watch. As the caterpillars grew, they left silky webbing and little balls of caterpillar poo, called frass in the cup.
When the caterpillars had finished growing, they made their way to the top of the cup and turned into chrysalides. We left the cup undisturbed for a couple of days to allow them to fully harden before it was time to transfer them to the butterfly habitat.
Transferring the chrysalides
One thing I wasn’t quite prepared for when removing the lid of the cup and transferring the chrysalides to the butterfly habitat was just how wriggly they would be! The instructions did mention that they would wriggle when disturbed. This is a protective mechanism against predators. However, I didn’t expect them to wriggle as much as they did! They were like little jumping beans on the lid, which freaked me out slightly. Thankfully hubby was on hand to take over and slot the lid into the chrysalides station ready for transfer into the butterfly habitat.
Before transferring the chrysalides, we made sure that we cleaned off any silk and frass attached to them with a cotton bud. This was a very important step. If the silk and frass stays attached to the chrysalis then the butterfly could become entangled in it when it emerges causing deformed wings or the death of the butterfly.
One of our chrysalides had fallen to the bottom of the cup of caterpillars. We used a plastic spoon to remove it, cleaned it up and then placed it on a paper towel at the bottom of the butterfly habitat, close to one side.
The butterflies emerge
Once the chrysalides were transferred to the butterfly habitat, all we had to do was wait. We expected the process to take around 7-14 days from when the caterpillars first turned into chrysalides. It was a bit of a surprise therefore when I glanced over at the butterfly habitat six days in and suddenly saw three butterflies stretching out their wings!
I just missed the fourth butterfly emerging from the chrysalis. One moment it was still inside the chrysalis; I went off to make a cup of coffee and by the time I came back the butterfly had emerged. I set up my camera filming the habitat to try and capture it. The only problem was that I couldn’t set it up to record overnight. Needless to say, when I came downstairs early the next morning, there was a newly emerged butterfly. I must have only just missed it again!
We watched the butterflies stretching out their wings to strengthen them. As the butterflies expand their wings, they also expel drops of red meconium from their abdomen. The meconium is the leftover waste material from metamorphosis that the butterfly no longer needs.
We also watched the butterflies coiling and uncoiling their long tongues, called the proboscis. When the butterfly first emerges, the proboscis is like a straw split into two halves. The butterfly coils and uncoils the proboscis to allow the two halves to join together.
Over the next couple of days, we enjoyed watching our butterflies in their habitat. We placed some flowers in their habitat and sprinkled sugar water on them for the butterflies to drink. It was fascinating to watch the butterflies drinking the sugar water that had soaked into the paper towel covering the bottom of the habitat.
Releasing the butterflies
After a couple of days, we took the habitat out into the garden ready to release our butterflies. It was a warm sunny day and our butterflies needed no encouragement to leave their habitat. As soon as I unzipped the top, the first couple were off and flying away. Butterflies number three and four followed very quickly afterwards. The last butterfly lingered for a moment longer before it too flew away. It was lovely to watch Sophie waving goodbye to the butterflies as they flew off.
Releasing the butterflies was such a beautiful way to remember Jessica too. When the butterflies first emerged, I thought we would end up releasing them exactly 100 days after losing Jessica. This felt like a significant day for releasing them. The last butterfly was a little slower to emerge though. We ended up releasing them 101 days after Jessica’s passing instead. I thought about how much Jessica would have loved seeing the caterpillars grow, watching them change into chrysalides and then releasing the butterflies after they emerged. I know though that she did get to do this at school last year and thoroughly enjoyed it.
After releasing the butterflies, I cleaned the butterfly habitat with warm soapy water and stored it away. If we want to repeat the experience (and I’m sure we will), we can just order another cup of caterpillars online and start the process all over again.
Thank you so much Mel for sending us the butterfly kit. We have had so much fun watching our caterpillars become butterflies.