Raising Painted Lady Butterflies

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My brother and (soon-to-be) sister-in-law gave G an InsectLore live butterfly garden for his birthday last year. This was a huge throwback for me. Our elementary school had a butterfly unit in 4th grade. The big 4th grade project was for each class to watch baby caterpillars grow, change, and emerge a Painted Lady Butterflies; which we kept in a huge netted corner for a few days before they were let go (I think I was out sick that day).

Raising painted lady butterflies in a butterfly garden via muddybootsanddiamonds.com

Learn about metamorphosis and Painted Lady butterflies with a butterfly garden via muddybootsanddiamonds.com

We had a lot of success with the caterpillars last year. The cup came with five caterpillars, and all of them survived and flew away with little issue. It was such a fun project that I decided to give the boys another cup of caterpillars for Easter. The netted cage is reusable so all I needed to do was order a cup of caterpillars. Luckily, I managed to sneak the box they came in into the house without them seeing. It arrived the day before Easter so they didn’t need to be hidden more than a few hours!

The caterpillars seem to double in size daily. You don’t need to worry about feeding them; their food is already provided on the bottom of the cup. Just sit the cup out where you can watch them and let them do their own thing!

They form their chrysalises after about 7-10 days. Last year, they seemed to do this overnight. This year, we actually caught the caterpillars making their way to the top of the cup and hang down in “J” shape before the chrysalis formed. They’re in this phase for about another 7-10 days.

This year, we had two losses. Two caterpillars didn’t make it to the top of the cup. I swore one was dead because it chewed a tunnel the food and stayed there. I had no idea it even formed a chrysalis until I took out the second one that was laying on top of the food and formed its chrysalis there. When that second one emerged, one of its wings seemed twisted.

The other butterflies knew this one was different and I swear they would fly into it on purpose. Then the butterfly, who couldn’t fly, would go nuts. Fluttering and rolling around in circles on the bottom of the cage. I know this is nature, but this little butterfly reiterated something for me: nature’s a bitch. It died the morning we let them go. Since it was dead, G decided he wanted to look at it under his microscope. I forgot he had asked, and put the dead butterfly next to a tree in the backyard. We had to go back outside after dinner to scoop it up into a petri dish.

Painted Lady Butterfly garden via muddybootsanddiamonds.com

There was another butterfly that flew just a bit but seemed content to crawl on the grass. Upon further inspection, I saw that it had a tear in its wing. I don’t know if this was the other butterfly that emerged on the ground, but I don’t think it lasted through the night. We left it eating the clover in our backyard, but I’m pretty sure something snatched it up that night/early the next morning.

Raising Painted Lady Butterflies via muddybootsanddiamonds.com

When the butterflies emerged, we fed them via a sugar water-soaked paper towel. G’s preschool class is also raising Painted Ladies and they fed their butterflies oranges, so we put one in for ours as well. We did this for a few days and let them go on a day where the temperatures were (finally) in the upper 60’s, before a string of rainy days.

The boys had a lot of fun watching them fly away and holding the one with the torn wing. G spent some time picking clovers for it to eat and made sure it had enough to (hopefully) see it through the night.

G’s already asking for more caterpillars, and I think we’ll be obliging that request again this summer. InsectLore also offers a kit to raise ladybugs that I definitely want to try at some point.

I read that the Painted Lady butterflies sometimes hang out for a day or two in the location they are let go. Our yard is pretty bare, so this hasn’t happened for us. I’m slowly starting to figure out landscaping, so maybe one day we’ll have that luck 🙂

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