Last year I found my Instagram feed filled with photos and videos of teachers, parents and daycare providers purchasing caterpillars and raising butterflies and I felt some major FOMO. We’re big butterfly lovers in this house so the idea of getting to watch the process in real life was amazing to me.
As spring approached this year I was super excited because it meant a very important thing: we were finally headed into the season where we would be able to order caterpillars and watch them transform into butterflies!
Here’s where I’m going to have to add my disclaimer: after I ordered our caterpillars this year, I found out this process is actually not as helpful for the butterfly population as I thought. As fun and exciting raising butterflies is many of them end up not surviving in the wild once they’re set free since they’ve been raised in captivity. Our plan for next year is to set up a pollinator garden in the front yard filled with plants that are native to Ontario and be able to enjoy the process of raising butterflies naturally!
We ordered our caterpillars from Scholar’s Choice. When we ordered them I also added on a butterfly habitat that they sell. The caterpillars were $24.99 and the habitat was $17. If I’m being honest, it all felt overpriced. You could get away with using a dollarama hamper instead of the habitat they sold me for sure. Though, I’d argue watching the joy in my kids faces as they were raising butterflies was worth the $40.
As much as I wished we had done monarchs (my favourite butterfly!) our caterpillars were Painted Lady butterflies.
When they’re ready for pickup, Scholars Choice gives you 5-6 caterpillars in a plastic cup. The cup has a layer of artificial insect food made up of toasted soybean flour, stabilized wheat germ, sugar, vitamins and mineral salts. There’s a layer of soft paper on the lid, similar to a coffee filter, that they’ll attach to when they change into their chrysalis form.
The caterpillars are a very low maintenance pet – in some ways, raising butterflies can be on the boring side. They come with enough food to sustain themselves, don’t need to be given water and can’t be played with. They’re fun to watch though!
We picked ours up once the delayed habitats had arrived. The information page told us it could be 7-10 days but we woke up to caterpillars in chrysalis stage on day number two! We woke up to three caterpillars in chrysalis stage and managed to catch the other two while they were changing. At first I thought their butts fall off when they change, as I stared at little caterpillar pieces left behind. Turns out it’s actually their heads!
The chrysalis stage was the longest stage in our journey through raising butterflies. They took eight days to go from goo to beautiful butterflies. If you’re wondering: yes, I absolutely said ‘Look, I’m a beautiful butterfly’ like Heimlich in A Bugs Life each time one hatched. Unfortunately, we never caught this stage in time. Three of them did it during the night and the other two did it while we weren’t looking. I’d look in and then bam! Another butterfly!
Once they hatch out, you have to let them be. The butterflies need to take the time to let their new wings dry and if you try to move them, or make them move, you’ll damage the wings.
Once they were all hatched and dried, I added a little dish with orange slices and raspberries for them to eat. We also collected from leaves, grass and a nice stick to make it feel more homey.
Look, butterflies don’t do very much. They spent a lot of time just sitting there, then they’d occasionally do some flying around the enclosure. They were much more active in the evening and night than during the day!
We kept the butterflies hanging in the playroom for 4 or 5 days before we continued into the last stage of raising butterflies: letting them go!
While we don’t have a full pollinator garden this year, I made sure to grab a few plants that were marked as butterfly plants. In hopes that maybe they’d stick around, or at least visit occasionally.
On the day we decided to set them free, we went back to the beginning and went over everything we’d learned while raising butterflies.
We went back over the body parts (in French and English!), watched this great video on Youtube of a metamorphosis time-lapse and then watched our butterflies eat their fruit. We watched a fun Elmo video on Youtube where he sings about butterflies and we drew photos of our butterflies with crayons.
Our Folkmanis puppet from Modern Rascals helped out in explaining the process of raising butterflies too!
Once we were done learning and observing we headed outside to set them free.
It was not a rush of fluttering butterflies like you might expect.
A few of them took their time leaving the enclosure, one only left once I stuck my hand in for it to crawl on and the other two eventually flew out right into the kids faces.
The butterflies stuck around the lawn and the garden for about 20 minutes, and then they all flew off to continue their adventure.
That was our adventure in raising butterflies!
It was a lot of fun, even though I now will sit here with the anxiety of wondering whether or not I just set them free to die. Womp womp. BUT the kids had fun and that’s what counts!
Next year we will definitely attempt to naturally go about raising butterflies.