Well, today was the big day! It was warm and even sunny in patches, so we knew we really needed to release our butterflies in case the weather didn’t hold out for the weekend (I live in the north of England, and getting 2 days of sunshine in a row is regarded as something in the order of a minor miracle).
At first we took the butterflies outside in their enclosure, so they could acclimatise to the weather. Soon they were fluttering and flying, so we opened the lid. Two of the butterflies wanted nothing more to do with us and flew straight off over the houses, but the other three were more hesitant to go.
Amelia was wearing a butterfly patterned top and our butterflies must have thought some friends had come to greet them as, to her delight, two of them fluttered straight onto it!
Another butterfly fluttered away fairly quickly, and we placed the remaining two onto a leafy bush to finish warming their wings in the sunshine.
It’s been such an amazing experience for all of us. I thought Amelia would have been sadder about letting the butterflies go, but in the end she was just excited about them landing on her top, so we were pretty lucky there.
Four of our five caterpillars have now turned into butterflies! We’re planning on giving them another couple of days to see if the last one emerges and then releasing them into the wild.
Apparently Painted Lady butterflies will naturally “migrate” from where they are released to their native habitats (at least that’s what the Insect Lore info sheet says). I don’t know whether this is actually true, or just one of those things they tell to kids to make them feel better, whereas in reality the poor things will spend the rest of their short lives weaving aimlessly through traffic in the centre of urban Manchester – but, hey, they said the chrysalids on the ground would be OK and so far they have been right, so maybe it’s time to suspend my natural skepticism and accept they know what they are talking about!
Watching the transformation so close up has been truly amazing. I took this photo of one of our chrysalids just minutes before the butterfly emerged – and you can actually see the butterfly’s wing inside!
Our butterflies seem to be enjoying their plates of fruit salad, although I’m sure they will ultimately be happier to be released into the wild (presuming what I said above is true, anyway!)
It’s been a privilege to share our house with such a wonder of nature, and over the next couple of days we will be sure to take in every detail before saying goodbye to our fluttering friends.
It must have emerged really quickly, as I looked before we went out to the shop this morning and the chrysalis was intact, then we came back half an hour later and there it was sitting next to its empty chrysalis shell, airing out its new wings.
We’ve given it some buttercup stalks to climb on, sugar water to drink, and also a little plate of fruit salad (well, it might as well get off to a healthy start!)
Hopefully in another day or so it will have some new butterfly friends to flutter around with too…
Oh, and don’t worry, the red stuff under the butterfly isn’t blood, it’s meconium (metabolic waste that is expelled from the butterfly as it first emerges – a bit like a human baby when it does its first poop!)
We’ve had a bit of trouble with our caterpillars since the last update. Two of our caterpillars successfully pupated on the lid of their container, but then as the next two tried to do so the final caterpillar crawled across them and all three fell in a heap to the floor. The two that had been knocked finished pupating on the ground that day, and the last one did so that night.
Now, I’ve been reading what you are supposed to do in these circumstances and getting a bit concerned. A lot of sources say that the chrysalids will not form properly on the ground, or the butterflies will not be able to emerge, and they talk about trying to “rehang” the chrysalids with dental floss or hot glue. However, the official Insect Lore site (where I purchased the larvae) says to leave them down, placed on kitchen towel, and they should emerge safely. So, that’s the advice we’re following, and basically hoping for the best.
I’ve placed all the chrysalids in their butterfly mesh habitat, and now all we can do is wait…
(Getting kind of worried over what will happen, though. The little things are like pets to us now, plus I really don’t fancy having to explain malformed butterflies and the like to my 4 year old. She is bad enough with dead stuff right now. Yesterday she turned to me and said “mummy, you’re so old you could die right now”! Gee, thanks, do I look that bad? I’m only 35!)
Yay! We now have one chrysalis, and another caterpillar hanging down from the lid in position ready to transform. The other 3 don’t seem to be doing very much, but I’m sure they will soon (they had better get a move on, as the food supply seems to be running low, and the ground now seems to comprise more of caterpillar droppings than anything else!)
It’s funny, but I’ve never really liked caterpillars much, even gone out of my way to avoid them – but seeing them here in my home they’re kind of cute! I love watching them crawl around and eat and grow, and find myself really caring about our fuzzy little creatures. OK, I’m still feeling slightly apprehensive about actually handling the things to move them to their butterfly habitats (have you seen chrysalides wiggle? what if one wiggles so much it drops off onto the floor?) but I’ve certainly grown a new appreciation for them. (Can’t say the same for my husband, though, who still insists caterpillars are “creepy” and “unpleasant”!)
4-year-old Amelia is fascinated by our wriggly new pets, and even 16-month-old Ciara has taken an interest, pointing at the beaker whenever she wants to be lifted up to see them. I knew it would be a good home activity, but it’s really captured their interest in a way I’d never imagined (Amelia’s even says she’s making her own book about the caterpillars). Definitely an activity I would recommend to other families with young children (or even without, as I am enjoying it at least as much as the kids and learning as many new things too!)
It’s been nearly 2 weeks since we got our caterpillars, and this morning I noticed something most disconcerting. The caterpillars didn’t seem to be moving, and in the jar next to them were 2 black fuzzy balls, which on closer inspection seemed to be caterpillar heads! “Oh s#*t!” I think “It’s caterpillar apocalypse. They’re falling apart, eating each other, or something equally horrendous!” So, of course, I do what any modern mother would, and quickly Google “my caterpillar’s head fell off” (quite prepared for my next query to be “where to get replacement caterpillars before the kids notice”.) To my greatest relief I find that it is actually normal for this to happen. Caterpillars’ skins do not stretch so they have to molt as they grow. When they do this their whole head capsule pops off, and this is what I had seen so alarmingly this morning. So it looks like my caterpillars are still happy and healthy after all!
In the process of my research I also found out about the silk threads. The butterfly caterpillar doesn’t use silk to spin a cocoon the way moth caterpillars do, but instead uses it as a kind of safety device – both as a tent to keep it safe from predators and the elements, and as a safety rope to keep it anchored to its environment as it climbs and as it pupates.
So there you have it. I think I’m learning more than the kids are!
Well, the caterpillars are getting bigger and hairier! After only a week, they are at least double their original size. They are also spinning some kind of silk, which has taken me rather by surprise as I thought only moth larvae did this and ours are butterflies (I must Google it when I get the time). It looks like they are surrounding themselves loosely in this silk, so maybe they do it to make some kind of comfy shelter, or maybe it’s just a waste product of some kind? I don’t know! If anyone does know the purpose of the silk, please do leave me a comment!
One caterpillar (pictured) is distinctly bigger than the others and likes to keep to its own side of the container (to get more food?) and another one is much smaller than the others. This tiny one didn’t seem to be moving at first, so we got a bit worried, but it’s crawling around like its caterpillar buddies now.
The girls are fascinated with our little creatures. I have them high up on the mantelpiece, and as soon as our 14 month old goes into the room she runs over and points at the jar until I lift her up for a better view. Husband still hasn’t warmed to them yet, but never mind!