How To Raise Butterflies to Lay Eggs — And Start the Lifecycle All Over Again

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Many of us have either had the experience or read about getting caterpillars and raising butterflies, then releasing them.  Our family has done this several times, and it’s always exciting for my kids.

You may want to read more about our Caterpillar Observation Area, using the scientific method, or about when our butterflies emerged.  We also saw some exotic species of butterflies at an observatory.

But this time, we wanted to take the project a step further. We decided to see if we could get the butterflies to lay eggs and then to see if those eggs would hatch into more caterpillars, and then butterflies.

I should probably tell you that my father started a butterfly farm years ago, so we kind of had an inside scoop, including the advantage of calling my step-mom whenever we had a question.

However, there was so much that we didn’t know! It was a great learning experience for me and the kids.

So here’s what we did.  First we started with caterpillars and observed them.
Within a couple of weeks, we had butterflies.  Painted Lady Butterflies, to be exact.

On about the 2nd or 3rd day after the butterflies emerged from their chrysalids, they began to mate.  Within another couple of days, they began to lay eggs. We hung some leaves from a thistle plant from the top of the butterflies’ enclosure. They began to lay their eggs on the leaves.
 Unfortunately, as the leaves dried out, the eggs fell onto the butterflies’ food (rotting bananas and melon), which presented a bit of a problem. We could not remove the eggs from the soft, mushy bananas without damaging them. We hoped they would survive but they did not. The eggs on the melon easily fell off when we placed them on the leaves of a Hollyhock plant. Lesson learned: Place the food and the plants as far away from each other as possible.

Butterflies feeding on rotten banana. The little blue specks on the bananas are the eggs laid by the butterflies.

Next, we placed our host plant, a Hollyhock, inside a larger enclosure, with the butterfly eggs gently laid on the leaves.  Painted Lady butterflies love Hollyhock and Thistle plants so we were ready with both.

Plants Painted Lady Butterflies like best: Left, Hollyhock. Right, Thistle.

We transferred the eggs onto a Hollyhock plant and put the plant into a mesh laundry basket with a mesh laundry bag clothes-pinned to the top.

Look closely or click on this photo to enlarge it. You will see the little blue butterfly eggs on a Hollyhock leaf, along with a shriveled piece of cantaloupe, that also has eggs on it.

We placed this new butterfly egg enclosure in the house, in a warm, sunny spot.  In less than a week, we began to notice teeny tiny caterpillars appearing on the Hollyhock leaves!  This was very exciting.

Look closely again. There are teeny, tiny, brand new caterpillars on this leaf.

The caterpillars did what they do best:  eat and eat and eat.  And also, poop. They grew larger and larger. They ate the entire Hollyhock plant! Then they ate a lot of leaves from the Thistle plant.

Caterpillars eating.

Pretty soon, we were out of plants, but that was not a problem because they began to form their chrysalids.  After a bit, we had butterflies again!
To teach my younger kids about the order of the lifecycle of butterflies, we use these butterfly lifecycle Butterfly Life Cycle Stages Characters.

Butterfly Lifecycle: egg, caterpillar, chrysalis, butterfly.

We released the butterflies after a couple of days.  Now that we earned our Butterfly Farmer badge, I think we will be doing this again in the future.

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