Butterfly Rearing & Hatching At Home

If you have not worked with one of these kits I would certainly recommend it! 

We have visited many sites with butterfly exhibits, living and preserved. This is an incredible place! The Victoria Butterfly Gardens, Victoria BC.

An amazing mom from one of our homeschooling/unschooling groups ordered a large kit, that we all split on as a group.

The kit came with a container of caterpillar larvae, food, and detailed instructions. The caterpillars were given to each family in small clear plastic cups with lids, and a container of food.

We actually had a chat group going, so that we could share information and the process. Some of our moms had used the kits before, and had great advice and tips.

We have cats so that was a concern. We decided to place our containers in a large glass jar for a bit of protection.

It was a bit scary to me to have them in such tiny containers, and I found it hard to believe it would be room enough for them to create a chrysalis. While they were in the larvae stage I removed the lid and used a needle to poke air holes in the top. It was important to keep them at room temp and in indirect sunlight. Direct sunlight becomes far too hot. Each day I cleaned out the containers a bit with a q-tip. There seemed to be balled up bits of food that I removed, and left any food that looked untouched. I added a small amount of food as needed.

There were always fine bits of webbing on the sides of the cup attached to the food ball remains, and it easily cleared out with the food. I almost never needed to touch or remove the caterpillar to clear the food debris. They did recommend to handle the caterpillars very little, and not to over clean the containers for the highest success.

We prepared our butterfly enclosure. You can certainly purchase these types of enclosures, but it is also quite easy to make one.

There are many ideas out there for them, but a mom in our group had used a small mesh pop-up laundry basket. We found one at a local discount retailer for $3. Some placed them on their sides. We decided to keep ours standing, and to place netting over the top. We bought a second basket, and cut the mesh out of two sides to make the top. I also placed a plate in the bottom to weight it down. I was concerned our cats may try to get on top if it were on it's side with a larger surface area available to them. We were able to peal back half of the lid for viewing.

They grew quickly! We could not believe how much growth we were seeing per day. I started to get nervous again about container size, but in the end it was perfectly ok. We had some that grew much quicker than others.

In some kits the containers have paper in the top for the caterpillar to attach to. Ours did not, so I decided to try coffee filters. I traced the lid and added a little extra for a tiny overhang. I crimped the edges of the paper with my fingernail to make it a bit more pliable. I placed the filter over the cup and then replaced the lids very carefully. The containers (ours) were not super strong, so used my nails to hold the underside of the rim to gently push the lids on.

It took about 4 days for them to start hanging in the J formation, in preparation to create their chrysalis. The food remains at this point had what looked like reddish balls in the containers.

We had one caterpillar that for some reason was on the side of the container, and did not go into the J formation hanging upside down. This little guys made it into a partial chrysalis and died. So sad.

After they had been hanging and stopped eating we carefully removed the plastic lids and used small sewing pins, to pin the coffee filters to the top of our netting enclosure. My husband and I did this together, because it was a bit tricky.

We had 7 caterpillars that made it into J form. This was amazing to see. For some reason I had Monarch chrysalides in my head, and thought they would be much larger which contributed to my container size worry. The Painted Ladies however were smaller. They started off in a light green/brownish colour. You could see small black balls of balled up skins with hairs, either at the bottom of the containers or even stuck to the chrysalis as they changed.

The group had quite a range in the time it took for various stages to occur. Some had J formations much later than others.

It was important that the chrysalides did not dry out. Outside they are exposed to natural moisture, so this needed to happen indoors. We bought a cheap water spray bottle from the dollar store.
We misted ours in the morning typically, but once a day was good.

As time passed the chrysalides started to deepen in colour toward a blackish range. Some taking longer than others.

You can see the variation in colour

Our first butterflies emerged during the night!! The enclosure was near a sunny open window (screened), and we found two of our Painted Ladies who had made their way to the screen.

We placed some orange wedges in the bottom of our enclosure. We very gently escorted these ladies outside riding on fingers.
There is a period of time that is recommended to keep the butterflies. We observed ours and sent them on their way when they were actively flying.

We did have one chrysalis fall from the top of the enclosure. We continued to mist it, and used a q-tip to gently turn it from side to side once per day. Eventually it emerged just as the rest.

I was quite startled to see the red liquid on the sides of the enclosure, that looked like a thin stream brilliant blood. We observed one newly hatched lady release the liquid almost like urine. This is apparently a fluid release that is a natural part of the process.

There is an abundance of information online to check out.

When the last of our ladies were flying and active, we said our goodbyes.

Xander made a video about some of the process that you can see here on his YouTube Channel if you like.

This was an utterly incredible experience, and something we will definitely do again. We gained an entirely new perspective and respect for these stunning creatures!

Enjoy your summer adventures!!



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