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 crysalis hanging 

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 sleeping.

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 tissue. 

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 wing.

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.