Every year I take the children to the Butterfly Show at the Natural History Museum, and each time I promise that we’ll go through the experience at home. This year I bit the bullet and bought an Insect Lore Live Butterfly Kit and set to it.
Looking at the instructions I thought it might be a bit of a palarva but it’s actually been relatively simple. You post off your caterpillar certificate, and wait for the kit to arrive the following week in a box marked ‘open immediately’. Inside is a container with five tiny caterpillars complete with food for their development. You have to keep the container upright and out of direct sunlight. You mustn’t remove the lid, however tempting it might be. The caterpillars really do not need any other food other than what’s provided inside the cup. You’ll see tiny airholes that provide plenty of air. I kept ours on a shelf that was high enough and out of reach of the children, but that when lifted they could watch the incredible process.
Watch out for webbing, which is the first sign that they’re alive. They thin eat, spin and grow to many times their size. Temperature is also important for the caterpillars. 24 degrees centigrade is perfect, and caterpillars will take three weeks to develop into actual butterflies at this temperature. At nighttime, we popped the container back into its original box, but you must remmeber to take it out again in the morning.
When the caterpillars are ready to become chrysalides they slowly climb to the top of the cup, spin a silk pad and hang themselves upside down. It’s really important that they’re not disturbed at this stage. They stay like this for a week or two, and it’s really fun to watch them grow and move.
When the chrysalides have formed, it’s time to put them in their little net house. At this time they will have attached themselves to the paper disc. It’s quite tricky, but you open the cup, remove the disc, and pin it inside the habitat. Here they will hang until they are ready for action. Look out for the dark colour, this means the butterflies will probably emerge that day. Sadly, we were away for the weekend when this happened, so we missed the pumping of wings which forces blood into them. A couple of hours later the wings then become full-sized and hard, which means they’re then ready for flight. As soon as we arrived home, we found five perfect butterflies flapping around happily.
The only unappealing site was the red liquid which is said to be ‘meconium’, left over from the formation of the wings. We immediately set to decorating the habitat, with a couple of flowers, leaves, half an orange and some sugared water. They instantly flew to the nectar and it was fascinating to watch. This all happened last night, and we’re going to make a bit of a ceremony of their release later today. Once released, I’m told the butterflies can often been seen for several days nearby, and they’re said to live for between two and five weeks.
We started this process in early May, and they took exactly three weeks to transform from caterpillars to butterflies. The caterpillars are available in the UK late February to late September, but I would say if you have a few weeks at home, any time during the summer is ideal. It’s been a really exciting journey and I can’t wait to do it next year.