A few months ago we received a surprise package in the mail from my husband’s grandparents. It contained a live butterfly garden from Insect Lore. The garden came with a postcard with instructions and a code to order live caterpillars when the weather was warm enough to actually release butterflies. I stashed the garden on a high shelf in our playroom and forgot about it until my ever-vigilant daughter asked eagerly if it was time to get the caterpillars yet. We ordered the caterpillars online, and a few days later they came in a little cup like this:
The cup had this hardened caterpillar food on the bottom and a paper lid with tiny air holes. Five busy caterpillars climbed all around inside the cup, eating the food and growing bigger by the minute. The instructions said to put the cup in a safe place and leave it alone. This is my kind of nature, folks! 🙂 Four of the caterpillars grew at an alarming rate, tripling their body size in one day. The last caterpillar remained quite small, although I did see him eating. In a few days, the four large caterpillars crawled their way to the top of the cup, hung upside down from the paper celing, and began to form into chrysallids. This was an amazing process to watch:
As they hung there in their chrysallids, the husband and I were going to make a quick four-day trip to San Francisco and the Sequoia National Forest for our tenth wedding anniversary. The kids and dog all went to their grandparents during this time, and I hoped the butterflies would wait to emerge from their chrysallids until we returned. Late that Sunday night, as we hugged kids, petted a nervous dog, and unpacked gifts that we had brought back with us, I noticed movement in the butterfly garden. Sure enough, three of the butterflies had fully emerged while we were gone and were flitting around the garden. The fourth one never made it out of his chrysallid.
We sliced up fresh oranges and inserted them into the Butterfly Garden so the butterflies could feed on the sweet juice. For two days, the kids and I observed the painted lady butterflies, made drawings and diagrams of their bodies, and basically learned a lot about these beautiful creatures just by watching them. Then it was time to release them. We took the garden out to the back yard, which was in desperate need of a fresh mowing. This, however, was good for the butterfly release because there were lots of dandelions for them to land on. We opened the garden and coaxed them out. One flew away over the fence almost immediately, but the other two cautiously ventured out and landed again and again in our dandelions, making for lots of good photo opportunities.
It was a fascinating life learning experience, and we hope to do it again next summer. We washed and put away the butterfly garden and will order caterpillars when the time is right.
(by the way, I am not being paid to endorse Insect Lore, but I wanted to share because we had such a good experience and I think many homeschoolers (and others!) would benefit from this information.)