Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Raising butterflies from a kit

As soon as I started planning this Insect Unit, I thought, "We have got to order one of those caterpillar metamorphosis kits again!" We had done it awhile ago and LOVED it. I asked the children if they remembered and was astounded to realize that it was NINE YEARS AGO! And only Abe really had memories of it!

It is a really fun thing to do. You order the caterpillars and they come in a little cup, and grow at an incredible rate. The cup has all the food they need, so all you do is watch them as they get huge, and then turn into chrysalises, and then emerge as beautiful Painted Lady butterflies!

Speaking of chrysalises (or chrysalids, as we learned is an alternate plural form…doesn't it seem like it ought to be "chysali"?)—maybe you have read Eric Carle's explanation of why HIS hungry caterpillar makes a cocoon instead of turning into a chrysalis? It's charming. And we were very interested to find out the difference between a cocoon and a chrysalis. A cocoon is like a little web that the caterpillar spins around itself, which then hardens to protect the changing caterpillar inside. And a chrysalis IS actually the caterpillar…changed into a different state (the pupa) and with a hardened outer skin. Most butterflies form a chrysalis and most moths spin cocoons. You can read more about that here, among other places.
Cute little caterpillars on successive days.
They attach themselves to the top of the cup with a little silk pad. You can see how at first they still look like caterpillars. Then they molt one last time, and suddenly…they are chrysalises!
Once they have hardened for a couple days, you can put them upright in this little holder. And what is strange…they seem like just husks, but they are still kind of…alive. And if they get bumped or startled they will start to wiggle and shake themselves around! It is the weirdest thing to see. We laughed and laughed! Here is a little video:
They were startled because one butterfly had emerged and bumped the other chysalises on his way out! :)
Three butterflies have emerged. You can see their empty chrysalises. Two to go!

When the butterflies were all out, we kept them in their little habitat for a few days, and then finally, reluctantly, let them go. We had grown to love them in that time. :) The children loved to put their hands into the habitat and let the butterflies land there and walk around with their tickly little feet. Sometimes a butterfly would put out its proboscis and taste someone's finger, to our great delight!
Before we let the butterflies go, though, we had caught a couple Monarch butterflies. We thought they were so beautiful we wanted to keep them and watch them for awhile, so we put them in the habitat with the Painted Ladies. We don't know how all the butterflies felt about that, but they didn't seem to bother each other too much, anyway. It was so fun to watch them flying around and sipping nectar! We finally forced ourselves to put one of the Monarchs in the killing jar for our collection (we were so sad! But we assured it that it would live on in our hearts forever!), and then we let the other one free with the Painted Ladies. But not before Junie did lots of collegial flitting about with her own Monarch wings!
Our butterflies flapped around us saying "thank you" and "goodbye" for awhile before flying away. We were sorry to see them go, but happy that they got to go out into the beautiful world at last!

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