Butterflies Emerging!

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Our Painted Lady butterflies have emerged! Most fascinating of all, they laid eggs that we were able to transplant onto a  Hollyhock plant. If you missed our first post on observing our caterpillars as they went from tiny little beings to big and fat and moving into the chrysalis state, you may want to go back and read about that first.

Once our Painted Lady caterpillars went into the chrysalis state, we continued to make observations and predictions in our Observation Area.  Each child predicted how long it would take the butterflies to emerge.

The Creek Kids observed:   The chrysalids did sometimes vibrate and wiggle, but did not relocate. They did not grow. They did not change color. They pretty much stayed the same, until one day we came home and there was a single butterfly.

Soon after, we watched as another emerged. We felt so lucky to witness this. It’s usually hard to catch them popping out, as it’s normally quite fast. We surmised that this is nature’s way of protecting new butterflies from predators–they get out quickly and move right away.
They start to crawl towards the top of the cage, slowly unfurling their wings. They release meconium, the bright red birthing fluid. We noticed that they seemed to get more active after releasing the meconium. But then they rested. Being born is hard work.

Much later, they would come to eat the rotting fruit that we put in the bottom of their enclosure. They love bananas. They initially ignored oranges, strawberries and melon but then began to feed on those as well.  We gave them more bananas.

I had several comments on our caterpillar post expressing concern about the fact that we handled our caterpillars. Commercial companies that provide live caterpillars for breeding butterflies advise against this, my readers informed me. Our experience is a bit different. Years ago, my father started a butterfly farm and my family is still breeding and selling live butterflies today. My kids and I have seen the behind-the-scenes work and know that by the time the caterpillars have arrived at our door, they have been delicately handled as both eggs and very new caterpillars.

How We Carefully Handle Our Caterpillars

  • We wash our hands.
  • We wait until the caterpillars have grown to about 4cm before we pick them up.
  • We only pick up one caterpillar, one time, simply for the sensory experience and to satisfy curiousity.
  • We use an open palm or an outstretched finger and let the caterpillar move around however it wants.
  • After a minute or two, back they go into their food containers with their friends, unharmed.
  • We wash our hands again.

We also handle our butterflies, once they have hatched, unfurled their wings and appear to be moving about, rested from the birthing process. Butterflies in captivity can be handled, as long as it is delicately.

If you put a few drops of water on your fingers, the butterfly may stay awhile, drinking.

Hollyhock (left, rear) and Thistle (right and left, front) Plants

After a few days out of the chrysalids, the butterflies began mating. We  encouraged them to lay eggs in captivity before releasing them.  Painted lady butterflies love thistle and hollyhock plants.

We hung a few stems of thistle from the top of the butterfly cage, secured with safety pins, as our whole thistle plants were too large to fit. The butterflies laid their little bluish-green eggs, however most of the eggs wound up on the rotting bananas and cantaloupe. Whether the butterflies laid eggs on their food or the eggs fell from the hanging, quickly drying, thistle, we aren’t sure.

Butterflies feeding on rotten bananas. See the little blue-green butterfly eggs all over the bananas?

We carefully moved the eggs into a larger butterfly enclosure that we made, a wonderful idea we got from Amy at Mamascout. Here’s a peek at that. I’ll post about this phase of the project after the eggs (hopefully) hatch.

Our new, larger butterfly enclosure where the Painted Lady eggs now reside, in the company of a Hollyhock plant.

When our butterflies were 5 and 6 days out of their chrysalids, we released them.  Here’s what you learn when you are the daughter of a Butterfly Farmer:  Painted Lady butterflies, like most butterfly species, need it to be 70 degrees Fahrenheit or higher in order to fly, otherwise they will fall to the ground and are easy prey for birds. Releasing them where there are flowers may encourage them to stay close, at least for a few minutes. Or they may just decide to take off. You can do that if you’re a butterfly.

Releasing our butterflies.

Here’s another thing you learn when your father turns a part of the house you grew up in into a butterfly farm:  Genetic mutations are, unfortunately, common. A missing or reversed wing, a caterpillar that can’t fully emerge from it’s chrysalis. For those that do emerge, but are unable to fly well or properly, we place them in the flowering bushes and plants upon release. This will give them a chance to lay eggs, eat or at least have a bit of a nice life outdoors.  Out in the open, they would be easy prey for birds and other predators.

This butterfly’s right wing didn’t properly unfurl when it emerged from its’ chrysalis. Its’ ability to fly is compromised so we placed it in a flowering bush where it can hide easily from predators.

We said goodbye to our butterflies and now we wait to see if their little eggs will hatch.  Stay tuned!

To read more about our butterflies in the caterpillar stage, click here.
To read about our trip to the exotic butterfly exhibit, click here.
For more ideas about raising butterflies, see Plain Vanilla Mom’s Butterfly Link-Up

Linking up with these great Linky Parties.