In the US it is possible to buy a little package that contains a mesh
container for keeping butterflies in. It comes with a little slip that
you mail in for 5 live catterpillars. Since Liisa was really into
butterflies the spring and summer of 2008 we decided to watch the
butterfly metamorphosis and got her a "grow your own butterflies" kit.
The species is vanessa cardui,
common painted lady, ohakaliblikas
Here are the caterpillars just as they arrived. They came in the mail
in a little cardboard box labelled "live caterpillars". The
caterpillars were in a little plastic cup that had a bunch of light
brown goop in the bottom. This was the caterpillar food.
We looked up in a book that painted lady caterpillars love to eat
thistle and nettle leaves (ohakad ja nõgesed). We tried with
various kind of thistles but the caterpillars were not too interested
in the leaves. The goop must have been tastier.
In just a day or two the caterpillars molted (ajasid nahka). We
actually saw this happening! Liisa thought that looking at the tiny old
caterpillar skin was fascinating. The caterpillars grew pretty fast,
every day a couple millimeters added to their lenght and the grew
fatter as well.
After about a week we noticed that two caterpillars were climbing to
the top of the cup and trying to attatch silk (they can secrete silk
thread with what they can hold onto somthing) to the lid of the cup. It
was time to move them to the butterfly pavillion.
The caterpillar held onto the surface with back legs (they have 10 legs
and 6 arms) and swung its body back and forth attatching a lenght of
silk at every swing. The little whitish lines are silk threads. After
thay has spun a pad of silk they hung onto it with hind legs and hung
upside down like a J.
And then at some point they wriggled out of their last skin and out
came a crysalis. We didn't actually see this happen but it only takes
some hours. Wwe went outside for a walk shortly after one hung as a J
and came back to this:
We spent quite a bit of time every day watching the crysalides and
talking about metamorphosis.
The little dots on the crysalis are golden. And after a while the whole
crysalis started getting a golden hue.
As the changes took place the crysalis started turning translucent.
Pretty soon we could see the wing colors.
And one day we woke up to this:
For quite a while, like an hour or so the butterfly just hung onto the
empty crysalis. After its wings were dry (they emerge with crumpled
damp wings) and had passed meconium it walked down leaving the empty
Here is another butterfly with the wings still crumpled and damp.
As soon as the butterflies emerged we went and got them some food. They
like to sip sugar water and watermelon or orange juice. Sugar water can
be put in the folds of a flower, we had carnations).
One of the caterpillars was about one cm smaller when they arrived. It
made its crysalis later and was late emerging. Something had gone wrong
because one wing got stuck in the crysalis and dried crumpled. In fact
it was so stuck that the butterfly never got all the way out of the
crysalis. We did however see it peeking out and mostly emerging. All
the other butterflies emerged early in the morning when we were still
The outside of the wings and the inside are completely different, The
outside is light brown with spots and a pink area on the front wing
(that gave the English name to the butterfly, it lookes like a
brushstroke was "painted" on the butterfly)
Two of our butterflies mated. It is said though that they won't lay the
eggs unless they can find a perfect host plant (that is a plant that
the caterpillar will eat) so we never saw one lying eggs.
Here one butterfly is sipping sugar water from a crumpled wet
And one sipping the same sugar water from the folds of a flower. The
proboscis (imilont) is clearly visible. Note the pink area on the front
Another great view of an eating butterfly
As soon as the weather warmed up (it has to be 55 F) we let the
butterflies go. When we took the butterfly pavillion outside they
started fluttering about like crazy. It smelled of summer.
Two took off as soon as I opened the lid, another two just waited. One
finally crawled to the edge and took off after a couple minutes.
But the last one just hung on until I basically shook it out.
But in the end it left into the wide world.