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  • Writer's picturereaderturnedwriter7

Raising Caterpillars to Butterflies!

A few weeks ago, my oldest daughter Ashtyn (age 8) caught some caterpillars at her grandparents' house. She has always loved bugs and wanted to take them home to raise them. Ben and I were all for it, so home they came.

Last year, we had tried with some monarch caterpillars. Unfortunately, it didn't work out. The day after catching them, the caterpillars turned black and ended up dying. It is called the black death, a really sad way for caterpillars to die. At least one probably had it before we brought them home (and they can easily catch it from each other).

At first, Ashtyn had them in an old sour cream container her grandma had given her. She had used toothpicks to poke air holes in the lid and filled the container with tree leaves. Since we were raising them, we wanted to keep the caterpillars in a clear container, so we could check on them without opening the lid and jostling them. We had a clear plastic cage that Ashtyn has used for praying mantises in the past and it worked great for the caterpillars. Ashtyn put her leaves and some twigs in to make the caterpillars more comfortable and we were able to see them without touching the cage at all.

When moving them into their new cage, we noticed that one of the three caterpillars my daughter found was looking darker than the rest. We were nervous about the black death and it spreading to the others, so we decided to let that one go and keep the other two in our cage.

The day after we brought them home, they hung upside down on one of the twigs. They hung like this overnight, which worried us in the morning. We looked it up and discovered that it is normal for caterpillars to hang in a J shape for 24 to 48 hours before forming a chrysalis. We also worried about the caterpillars hanging so close to each other, but further reading online assured us that it was normal (and in fact, someone who raises caterpillars has tried to move them away from each other, but then they all congregate together even after being moved).

It was also cool to see what they shed when they turned into a chrysalis. In the next picture, it's the spiky ball at the bottom.

We found the caterpillars on a Wednesday evening. They hung in a J shape the next day. On Friday at lunchtime, we checked on them and nothing had happened yet. A few hours later, my husband came out of his office for a break and we discovered that one of the caterpillars had already formed its chrysalis! It was fast!

A couple hours later, I was making dinner with the kids when Ashtyn noticed the other caterpillar was vibrating back and forth. We knew this was the first step of forming the chrysalis, so we kept a close eye on it. A few minutes later, we saw it forming its chrysalis and got to watch (and get a video) of the process. It was faster than I had expected and really cool to see!

Once the chrysalises were formed, we were really careful about not bumping the cage. We didn't want to knock them down. We knew it could take anywhere from 5 to 18 days for them to hatch (though I read that in bad or cold weather, they can wait for months and still come out as a butterfly, which is amazing!). We keep our house between 68 and 74 degrees, which is a little cool for caterpillars, so we knew it would probably be closer to 18 days than 5.

About 2 weeks after they were formed, my husband moved them from their spot on our kitchen counter to the kitchen window, wanting to give them more sunlight. That was apparently what they needed!

The next morning, I came out to unload the dishwasher and habitually looked in the cage to check on the chrysalises. In their place were two beautiful, dark brown butterflies! It was very exciting, and I immediately called the kids over to see.

They were hanging upside down still, and we could see the chrysalis sacks hanging on the stick next to them. Their wings were floppy, so we waited for them to harden up. I read that butterflies pump meconium (their version of blood) into their wings after hatching, to help shape their wings. Then the meconium gets pumped back into their body and the excess drips out onto the ground (it was red and at first we wondered if they were actually bleeding). The small amount of meconium left in their wings hardens, which can take a few hours. Once the wings are hardened, the butterflies flap their wings and that's when you know they are ready to fly.

I kept checking on the butterflies and I have to admit that I was starting to get a little worried. In fact, every stage of this process caused me some concern, but nature and patience worked. It wasn't until lunchtime when both butterflies started flapping their wings.

We quickly called our kids over and Ben carried the cage outside. We opened the cage door, but neither butterfly made a break for it, so Ben used one of the sticks to gently help them onto the side of our house.

Both butterflies stayed there for a minute or two. We decided to leave them there until they were ready to fly, but right as we were going inside, the first one took off. A few moments later, the second one did as well. They flew around until they found some weeds to land in.

It was a really fun process to go through and the kids and I both learned a lot!

Have you ever raised a butterfly or other animal? I would love to hear about it in the comment section!

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